“It’s tradition in the metro Detroit area, and all of Southeast Michigan, to get cider and donuts, especially in the early part of fall when it’s still somewhat nice outside.” said Ice Cream Social partner Mike Weiss. “A couple of customers had asked about it and we tossed the idea around before so it was fun to see it come to life.” Following two successful summer seasons, Ice Cream Social tested a fall truck for the first time this year.
When summer turns to fall
Pivoting from ice cream to fall offerings required more than adding a few items to their typical route. Weiss and partner, Victoria Roedel reached out to the same designer who created their original popsicle logo and asked them to create one more reflective of their fall truck. Using the company’s font, they added the words “coffee, cocoa, donuts, cider” to the side, an early tease for their social media followers that the truck they know and love would be extending the season with new items.
Photography by Jon Deboer
The truck remained the same, and although the freezers weren’t operational for the fall season they did serve as much-needed counter space. Three-tiered food warmers and hot and cold beverage dispensers were added and mounted so they remained fixed in place as Ice Cream Social went on the road.
Managing cash flow in the offseason
While Weiss says Ice Cream Social didn’t go into the fall season with market research, they focused on stocking local offerings, especially apples, a popular fall staple in the Michigan area.
“The donuts we served in paper bags and in multiples of three. There were plain and cinnamon sugar, both served warm. Those were very popular and sold out almost every single day,” said Weiss. At first they would start the day with a set amount, but refined it as time went on. In addition, the truck sold cold brew, hot coffee, cold and warm spiced cider, and cocoa.
Ice Cream Social saw its gross margins increase during the fall season, and they used Square reports to make financial projections, creating a pro forma to forecast the best- and worst-case scenarios for the season. “We ended up making a profit, and even though our cost of goods went up, so did the margin, so it ended up being a successful experiment,” said Weiss. They credit these increased margins in part to sourcing the cider, donuts, and other raw materials locally.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apple cider is up to $8 or $9 a gallon. That was definitely a little more than we were expecting. I think last year you probably could have found it for $5 or $6 a gallon, so that definitely factored in.” said Weiss. They combatted this by adjusting their sales prices accordingly. Stocking local apple cider helped avoid the need for a full kitchen and stricter food regulations were they to take on production themselves.
To connect the seasonal offerings to Ice Cream Social’s roots, Weiss and Roedel also offered what would turn out to be the smash hit of the season, an espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, an affogato. “They’re a treat, like ice cream is a treat. So, an affogato it’s just luxurious and so delicious.” said Roedel. “We did events in apple orchards and things like that, and it got around. People saw other people having it and they were like ‘what’s that?’ and it spread naturally.”
Looking ahead to summer again
While the duo is taking a break for the winter and avoiding the snow-laden streets of Detroit, they’re already thinking about the next summer season. This will be their third summer season, now equipped with a fleet of two fully renovated Good Humor trucks, an additional deep freezer for extra storage, and a fall season under their belt. Although they broke even their first summer in business, last year’s summer season proved to be more difficult with supply chain shortages making their business operations more inefficient.
“We had to go get ice cream from our distributors every single day because they were capping us on what we could get based on the supply chain issues — and having to run to a distributor every day is just not efficient business practice” said Weiss, recalling that the year prior they would only have to fill their truck every four or so days.
While they hope they won’t run into the same issues this coming summer season, Roedel says buying an additional freezer made all the difference in navigating shortages this summer. “This was the best strategic decision that we made because we didn’t have to constantly go every three or four days to get ice cream.” said Roedel. “We always had a nice stock in that extra freezer that we could just pull from at any time. Even when everybody was out, you still have, like, five boxes.” If they do encounter similar issues this year, they plan on using the additional freezer again to cut down on trips and stocking issues.
Despite the slow down in supply, Ice Cream Social is getting ready for another big summer and could expand their route beyond Detroit to Chicago, New York City, or even festivals. The idea for Ice Cream Social, the digital agency and food truck business, was inspired by ice cream social gatherings, and they hope that as they expand their footprint and attend events in the coming months, the concept comes even more to life.