Youngstown, Ohio, the early 1920s: Harry Burt starts freezing wooden sticks inside chocolate-covered ice cream bars so you could eat the product without using utensils. Soon thereafter, he hit the road, selling his frozen treats — Good Humor Ice Cream Bars — out of the back of refrigerated trucks.
A century later, Jack Elerick of St. Clairsville, Ohio, is plying the village streets of Belmont, Flushing, Bridgeport, Bellaire and anywhere else kids and adults need summertime treats.
Unlike Burt, Elerick benefits from the technological modernity of Facebook and GPS when it comes to enhancing his stops and routes. On his first day out, Jack’s Snacks’ Facebook page was the main connection between him and his potential clients. Even those just looking out for the youngsters in their own neighborhoods jumped onboard.
“Come down Ohio Street sometime in the middle of the afternoon if you can. There’s a bunch of kids that have been playing on my street all week, I’m assuming they’ll be out there tomorrow as well,” wrote Greg Darby. Nikki Kelly was requesting a visit to Elm Grove. Doug Longenette wants to team up for a stop at his axe-throwing/laundry biz on Route 40. Diane Lawler suggested a run through the Oil City RV Park behind the Sherwin Williams outside the Ohio Valley Mall. Katelynn Ninni’s kids tried to get her to turn around and chase the van down from the other direction!
It’s not just the digital tech that has evolved in the biz. Burt and his fleet of truck workers had to exit the cab of their trucks and dispense goods from the rear of the vehicle. Modern trucks/vans like Elerick’s 1991 Chevy G30 have been retrofitted to allow the inclusion of a cold-plate freezer that maintains a minus 8-degree temperature for eight to 10 hours. This keeps his famous Chips Galore Ice Cream Sandwich, snow cones, Bomb Pops and face pops properly stored until he recharges on standard house electrical current for the night. All of his snacks are currently pre-packaged so he doesn’t have to contend with cleaning a pricey soft-serve machine each evening, although he does not rule out hand-dipped fare in the future.
Shadyside, Morristown, Barnesville … even two requests from California … we all scream for ice cream. If this type of response can be sustained, Elerick may soon be on his way to the vocational and financial freedom he so wishes for.
A 2014 graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University with a degree in business administration management, he has been working in the furniture business for his day job. But he always wanted to work for himself.
“The ultimate goal is to create a successful business on my own that hopefully, by next summer, I’ll be able to do full time,” he said. “I’m a guitarist in my free time as a hobby … for the longest time I considered somehow entering the music business … giving lessons or opening my own instrument shop. But once I met Greg [Kloeppner] and learned how he operates his business and how lucrative it can be, I realized it’s something this valley has been missing.”
MENTOR GREG & BRYNN E. BEAR
Greg Kloeppner is a former Ohio County assessor and family friend of Elerick. In 2005, Kloeppner’s daughter, Brynn, was 8 years old, and he wanted to start saving some college money for her.
“I visited my old college friend Voras Haynes in Elkins, West Virginia, around that time, and he had [an ice cream truck]. I realized Wheeling didn’t have one rolling around, so I bought one. Being assessor at the time, it allowed me to work it in the evenings and on weekends,” said Kloeppner. “When my daughter was little, I began calling her ‘Brynnie Bear,’ so that’s what I called my business: Brynn E. Bear’s Ice Cream.”
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Kloeppner has had various configurations of ice cream trucks/vans over the years and continues his business out of the Pittsburgh area where he relocated in 2015. The upgrade in market size has resulted in some pretty impressive ice cream street cred. “I’ve catered the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Party, the Batman film set for The Dark Knight Rises (Christian Bale), the Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) set, the Abducted set (Taylor Lautner) and the Nickolodeon set for season two of Supa Ninjas.”
Nowadays, Kloeppner mostly specializes in pre-booked corporate events or weddings throughout Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but he helped Elerick get started in the business and is his mentor. “Jack is such a well-deserving young man. The ice cream truck business takes dedication, initiative and hard work. He possesses those qualities to the core. I feel blessed to help someone like him get started.”
One can tell by the flurry (pun intended) of Facebook postings that the ice cream truck phenomena is hard-wired into our psyche throughout the last 100 years. “I remember me and my brother always getting the Ninja Turtle face pops at the ice cream shop in St. Clairsville when we were young. That definitely plays into the nostalgia of getting to sell face pops on the truck today because the Ninja Turtle Pops still exist!”
He’s also proud to be able to offer the happiness that comes in frozen packages to a grateful audience for a reasonable price. “With my most expensive product being less than $4, it’s not going to break anyone’s bank to wave down the neighborhood ice cream truck. Plus I’ll always be dealing with happy clientele, which can be in stark contrast to some other retail scenarios.”
Just like David Lee Roth from Van Halen sang when they redid John Brim’s original “Ice Cream Man,” “All my flavors are guaranteed to satisfy.”
ICE CREAM BITES
• Steubenville connection: recently, the Good Humor (Harry Burt) ice cream company teamed with former Steubenville resident and accepted leader of rap super-group Wu Tang Clan to write a new jingle for the company that is free to all ice cream trucks regardless of ownership. This was in response to the long-term use of a frequent ice cream truck jingle “Turkey in the Straw,” which was originally used in black-face minstrel shows and contains some questionable lyrics.
• Interested in more ice cream truck jingles? Check out the YouTube page with 43 jingles.
• The 1920s: One of the reasons Burt’s Good Humor Bars and ice cream trucks were such a raging success was because prohibition pushed people to lesser highs in the form of sugary desserts.
• For Burt’s first ice cream truck, he removed the bell/chime from his son’s sled to use as the neighborhood attractant.
• Milk wasn’t pasteurized until the late 1890s, so ice cream consumers would come down with various sicknesses including the bacteria that causes scarlet fever or diphtheria.
• Ice Cream Truck Wars: In New York City, Mister Softee drivers and New York Ice Cream (former Mister Softee drivers who left the company to start their own company because they were fed up with the corporate/franchise fees and rules) had physical as well as court battles which continue to be harsh even today. Also, rival gangs were selling dope and stolen property out of ice cream trucks in 1980s Glasgow, leading to deadly showdowns.
• Mister Softee (New Jersey) began ice cream truck service in 1956 and currently has 625 franchise trucks in 18 states. Franchisee costs include $170,000 initial investment with proof of an additional $60,000 in liquid cash assets. On top of that, you have to pay a one-time $7,500 franchise fee and a yearly $3,500 royalty fee.
• Rich Wooding has been a correctional officer with the State of Ohio/Belmont Correctional Institution for more than 25 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism with a minor in philosophy from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, serving from 1985-89.