An ice cream pushcart is defined as a nonmotorized, wheeled vehicle that can be towed from one location to another. An ice cream pushcart is a welcome sight on a warm summer day. A DIY ice cream cart can get you started in a business of your own with a relatively small investment.
Look at Ready-Made Carts
Restaurant supply stores such as the online retailer Webstaurantstore.com sell a variety of ice cream carts ranging in price from about $2,000 to nearly $8,000. The differences in price reflect the overall size of the unit as well as shelving, drawer space, the number of wells for ice cream flavors and canopy options.
Look at various options in person or online and find the specifications of the cart models that appeal to you. Using the specifications, you can begin to calculate the cost of building a cart similar to one you can purchase.
Know Your Market
Depending on the size of the pushcart, ice cream vendors usually offer one, two, four or six flavors. It pays to do some market research to determine which flavors to offer customers. You'll need one compartment, or well, per flavor.
According to the Food Network, residents of 14 states named cookies 'n' cream as a favorite. Ice cream eaters in Alaska, Idaho, Wisconsin and Wyoming prefer chocolate, while people in Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and North Dakota most often opted for vanilla. You may want to fill your ice cream wells with local and regional favorites.
On the other hand, is there a market in your area for nondairy options such as ice cream made with soy or coconut milk? Do you hope to attract customers with unique creations? Some unexpected flavors include trail mix, curry and mint, goat cheese, cilantro lime and brown-butter bacon. You may want to build a business by offering flavors that customers cannot find anywhere else.
Know State and Local Regulations
Requirements can vary depending on your location, so start at your town or city office to find out what's required. Documentation needed for operating a food cart typically includes the following:
- Business license
- Approvals, inspections and certificates required by your state's department of health
- Proof of general liability insurance
- A photo of the pushcart with dimensions
- An occupational permit
Decide on a Location
Choosing a location to site your DIY ice cream cart can affect your design decisions. If you'll be situated in a park, for example, and surrounded by lots of greenery, you may want to go with a red and white color scheme to stand out. Bright yellow can be a good choice for a busy street corner.
Local regulations will dictate where you can site your DIY ice cream cart. In Boston, for example, carts are allowed in only some of the public parks, in Downtown Crossing (a pedestrian mall) and in several business improvement districts. Some municipalities such as New Orleans limit the total number of pushcarts that can vend in the city at any one time.
Consider Storage and Food Safety Needs
In addition to refrigerated storage areas for ice cream, you'll need storage areas for equipment and supplies such as scoops, plastic food handlers' gloves, napkins, cones, dishes and spoons. You'll need a secure way to store money that also provides easy access for making change. Consider how and where you'll clean and store the pushcart at the end of the day and, if applicable, during the off season.
Build Your Own Ice Cream Pushcart
Build your own ice cream pushcart after thoroughly researching local regulations to be sure your cart will be in compliance with business and food-safety requirements. Register your business name, secure your location and get ready to supply customers with a favorite warm-weather treat.
- City of Boston: Other Types of Mobile Food Vending
- City of New Orleans: Mobile Ice Cream Vending Permit and License
- Custom Concessions USA: Food Trucks vs. Food Trailers vs. Food Carts: What’s the Difference?
- Food Network: What's the Most-Popular Ice Cream Flavor in Your State?
- Cooking Channel: Unique Ice Cream Flavors and Recipes
- Check with local legislation and verify what steps, if any, need to be taken in order to register your new ice cream vending business with the state. Depending on where you live, you may need to register your ice cream cart's name with the state and/or acquire appropriate licenses and permits. Do this before you start selling, or you could wind up in some sort of legal trouble depending on your home state. Your dry ice will last longer if your freezer is full, so, as you sell, try filling the empty space with crumpled up balls of old newspaper (once the ice cream is gone). When you open the lid of your freezer, stand back for a few seconds and let the dry ice vapors flow out. This way, you won't breathe any in. Make sure to tell your customers to stand back as you open the freezer. It would also be a good idea to place a sign stating this where your customers can see it. You will make the most money by choosing a good location for your ice cream cart. A park, city square or other pedestrian areas are usually good places in which to sell. Try to have variety in your ice cream selection, so that you attract the most customers. Keep track of which products are selling so that you can modify your inventory accordingly.
- Check with all local law enforcement officials before you start selling food. Some jurisdictions may require a license for street vendors. If you are asked to leave an area by a police officer, do not argue, or you could end up with a fine (or worse). Be extremely careful when handling dry ice. Never, under any circumstances, should you touch dry ice with your bare hands. Do not breathe in dry ice vapors.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.