A cool business with an international flavor
An entrepreneur decides to leave her stable job and start an exotic ice cream truck business.
(FSB Magazine) -- Leyla Safai is the owner of Heartschallenger (myspace.com/heartschallenger) in Los Angeles:
I had my midlife crisis early, at age 25. I was designing uniforms and interiors for Andre Balazs Properties, including the Standard Hotels and the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. I got the job when I was a single mother - it was good money, but after four years of feeling that I'd end up working for someone else forever, I decided to launch a truck-art empire, an idea that came from pondering the typical ice cream trucks of childhood.
Why did they sell only one type of product? It didn't make sense - an American truck with no international flavors, considering all the nationalities that make up this country. I liked the idea of a shop on wheels that sold a mix of art, ice cream and toys - an entertainment source outside a venue.
I do taste tests in different communities to find my products. I go to Armenian delis and Little Tokyo and buy the novelties, then work backwards, tracking down distributors online. Our stock depends on what's available at that moment to be shipped from overseas, and includes Japanese ice cream mochi balls, Russian ice cream bars and white-chocolate hearts filled with raspberry sorbet. Some can be shipped to the U.S. only three times a year.
My first big gig was ArthurFest, a two-day music festival held in Los Angeles two years ago. More than 3,000 people attended, and it was just me standing on piles of empty cartons. I didn't stop working for 12 hours, serving a line of 40 customers the entire show.
Now I have three trucks and ten employees. We charge customers $350 to $3,000 an hour for us to be at an event; some clients, at after-hours parties and bar mitzvahs, buy out the truck's inventory.
At gigs like music festivals, we sell our treats at cost, turning a profit on nonperishables such as buttons and CDs from local artists. We don't park and sell products on the street. We just did South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin and are booked to work festivals in London, Paris and Tokyo this year.
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From the June 1, 2007 issue