Catching Up With the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
By Jerry Portwood
Photo of Doug Quint by Howard Wallfish via Flickr.
Since June 2009, Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff, both romantic and business partners, have been driving around the city serving up fun in their Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. "Ice cream trucks aren’t all that fun in New York," Quint says. "We wanted to offer great customer service. And we wanted it to be a happy time. We thought that the name was so silly that it would be indicative of."
Now, three years later, they have a Big Gay Ice Cream Shop in the East Village and have been featured everywhere from the Great GoogaMooga Festival food event to VH1's "Big Morning Buzz." Most improbably, the Truck was recently hired to serve their special highbrow version of lowbrow dessert at the high-profile wedding of City Council Speaker (and New York City mayoral hopeful) Christine Quinn and Kim Catullo earlier this month. We got a hold of Quint to discuss how a silly idea turn into a profitable business and lifestyle. Turns out crushed wasabi peas in a waffle cone lined with Nutella helps.
Out: So when I read about the Christine Quinn/Kim Catullo wedding in the Times, I noticed they mentioned you were there to serve dessert outside the venue. How did that happen? Was Quinn a big fan of the Truck?
Doug Quint: I don’t think she had ever been to the truck. That said, she certainly new more than a little about our ice cream. We dealt with her event planners. We serve a couple of different ice creams, and she and Kim both came to the shop and sampled. I have to say, having black town cars show up with security and Christine Quinn spilling out of them into the store was certainly a new experience.
But was that weird?
Everything at this point is weird and nothing is unusual anymore. What am I going to say? It’s kind of par for the course. Was it another typical day? No. I guess not.
Our hope for the day of the event was to get it into the event space. When you do that, you can’t run the diesel generator because of the fumes. We didn’t really want to do that to them on their wedding day. We made for attempts to plug it in and operate like more normal circumstances. So, after the cake-cutting, people came outside. And they took trays of stuff inside as well. I think Christine was disappointed when the decision was made to move us outside after necessity. Also, they didn’t think people wouldn’t want to venture outside. But it worked.
Did you serve Gay Ice Cream to Mayor Bloomberg?
By the time we were there Bloomberg was long gone. But we did serve a cone to Police Commissioner Kelly at the truck. Oh, and do you know his hot son? I told him, "Mr. Kelly, please tell your son that he has two fans in this truck." Oh that was hiliarious! He just stared at us. In fact, the very first person we met was [Senator] Chuck Schumer. He asked, "Is there anything you can give me?" And I said, "I can give you the pleasure of meeting me." But, really, everyone was lovely.
Although you guys have lots of unusual toppings, the ice cream is still basically the same soft-serve, right?
We do some custom flavors in our shop. But it’s all soft-serve, very high-quality soft-serve. What I think, and what Bryan and I both feel, is that we would have fun in dressing it up. That was originally out of necessity, since we could only run vanilla or chocolate. And the dips, the nuts, it was boring. It was candy heavy or sweet heavy. Our thrust was not in changing the ice cream but improving a very stale menu.
So why did you decide to open the shop?
Our kind of growth happened organically. After two years of working at capacity, we felt sort of limited at what we could do. We didn’t have a proper kitchen space. We needed a store because sales warranted it, and we were stifled by the limitations of the truck. I prefer having both; I wouldn’t continue having a truck if we didn’t have a store. It was fun work and rewarding but we wanted more.
Bryan likes to keep himself off the truck and in the store as much as possible. I really get a kick out of working on the streets of New York. My favorite thing to do is, any normal day going out and meeting new people in the truck. He's honing the store and working on recipes. It's a natural division of interests and labor.
I follow you on Twitter, and I noticed a weird-sounding exchange you seemed to be having with a customer about She-Ra's horse? What was that all about?
Oh, yeah! We were having a little tiff, arguing over She-Ra's horse's name. He said it was Swift Wing. And I said Swift Wind. He couldn't handle it so he was asking Siri, and it really cracked me up.
So you get along with your customers, is there anything that drives you crazy?
Does the ice cream make me gay? I scream when I hear it. I must have heard it tens of thousands of times. No, the ice cream doesn't make you gay, guys.
I saw the great video that, what did you call it, soft-serve meets soft core porn?
That was all GoogaMooga. They made several commercials: there’s one with Tom Colicchio and one with Eddie Huang. They wanted us to do one. It was a really interesting time. We’ve done a lot of stuff for TV but not anything where we had to hit our marks and actual acting. It was exhausting and the learning aspect was interesting.
My favorite shot was that Lolita-like moment with Bryan sucking from the straw. It was horrible and wonderful. My only regret is, it was going to be a little bit of fantasy sequence with, like rockets taking off and trains going through tunnels. But it's fun.
So, now that you've catered a wedding, I guess I should ask, and don't kill me for asking, do you and Bryan plan on getting married anytime soon. And will there be ice cream?
We're so busy and we don’t want to shoehorn our own wedding between ice cream truck events. We are stalling, but it’s going to be a huge mess. Ice cream? I don’t see how we can get away with it. I have got dairy soaked in my shoes.
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