Street Food: Mobile milk bars do business

Far from being affected by inflation and increases in diesel consumption, Quebec’s mobile milk bars are in full swing this summer. Customers are more numerous than ever and don’t shy away from their pleasure, even if the “soft” costs a little more.

The itinerant vendors selling tons of frozen treats and soft creams in Belle Province are far from on the brink of death, contrary to what we’ve witnessed in some major urban centers across the United States for the past few months.

Several major American media outlets have painted a rather bleak picture of this industry, reporting on the difficulties dealers in New York, Boston and Los Angeles are struggling to break even due to generally rising commodity and fuel costs. . Some openly consider giving up everything.

In which New York Times, The director of the North American Ice Cream Association even hinted that ice cream trucks would be “a thing of the past.”

The “manna” for two years

The newspaper contacted a dozen ice cream parlors across Quebec. The conclusion is unanimous: Nobody experiences such setbacks. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

Martin Brown, who has been in business in Quebec for 37 years, said he has had the best sales of his career over the past two years, despite the health crisis and the cancellation of many events and festivals in 2020 and 2021. Since the pandemic, it’s been “manna,” he summarizes.

Martin Brown, entrepreneur (right) owns Plaisirs glacés and Le Brise-Glace trucks in Quebec City.  He has been in the business for 37 years.

Photo Jean Luc Lavallee

Martin Brown, entrepreneur (right) owns Plaisirs glacés and Le Brise-Glace trucks in Quebec City. He has been in the business for 37 years.

“There are restaurants that were closed and that ate the slap, but us, since it is an external service, nothing prevented us business. I’m telling you, it’s madness. Demand is extremely strong, we are forced to refuse contracts,” says the man who owns the Le Brise-Glace and Plaisirs glacés trucks, as well as a truck parked permanently at Miller Zoo in Beauce.

On Montreal’s South Shore, Nathalie Savoie delivers essentially the same speech, although 2020 has been a tougher year for her. “But when it resumed last year, 2021, it was my best year in 18 years,” continues the owner of Boule et crème dodo and Crème Pop trucks in Chambly.

Crème Pop's, this mobile dairy bar in Chambly, also attracts customers.

With kind approval

Crème Pop’s, this mobile dairy bar in Chambly, also attracts customers.

Slight price increase

Inflation has forced most retailers to increase their prices by 25 or 50 cents for a small bag of whipped cream, which generally costs between $3.75 and $4.25. Not enough to drive customers away. “It is fortunate that we pay ourselves without calculating. I lost some customers but regained some […]. It’s a growing industry. It’s going very well, we’re very satisfied,” adds Ms. Savoie.

“It is certain that our ingredients have increased, we will not hide it. The other problem is the price of the containers, the straws. There is a shortage of compostable straws. We have also increased our prices for the consumer, but it remains affordable,” observes Mélanie Leclerc of Cornet on the Run in Saint-Valérien-de-Milton.

In addition, attendees of many private events charge business customers higher travel expenses to cover their fuel costs.

Better paid employees to counteract the shortage

The labor shortage is also affecting ice cream vendors, who are being forced to offer increasingly attractive salaries to attract employees and freeze expansion projects.

The base hourly rate of $20, well above the $14.25 minimum wage, is becoming more common. By adding tips, employees can double their pay and sometimes even more, says Martin Brown, who owns three trucks in the Quebec region.

$45/hour with tip

“We also saw the staffing problem, but I didn’t have much trouble finding one,” he says, thanks to his strong arguments. “I tell them, ‘You’re going to show up with empty pockets, you’re going to leave with full pockets.’ We tip $20, but we guarantee they’ll make at least $30 from the tip, but they exceed that. The average is $45 an hour.”

Recruiting is sometimes more difficult in the regions. La Chocolaterie Beljade in Amqui launched the “Molle-Mobil” amid a pandemic. Success came immediately. Several villages in Bas-Saint-Laurent rolled out the red carpet for him by offering him a free permit. He walks the streets the old-fashioned way, and people rush to his truck when they hear his music.

“That’s no longer possible in the big centers, but it’s still possible here,” says Daniel Savard. There are small villages that don’t have a milk bar, so when they see me coming, they take soft cream! It’s just her [rareté] the work that keeps me from having another ice cream truck or two. »

On the steps of the church.

The enthusiasm in the region is undeniable. The owner of the Le Frisson milk bar in Saint-Gervais has also been the talk of the town for seven years with her mobile unit on a trailer in the Bellechasse region.

“The villages are calling me. I go everywhere, I park in churchyards and it’s going very well. It looks like I’m recreating the social in the village for people to meet and chat. Sometimes they stand in line for an hour and then have a big smile! says Michelle Asselin.

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