Chill in a crisis: Fledgling ice cream truck adjusts to COVID-19

Cayson Gatlin of Valley View waves goodbye to Oliver’s Ice Cream truck.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooke County businesses are reinventing themselves through technology and stepping up service. In the case of one local startup, Oliver’s Ice Cream, spreading joy, hope and comfort is in its DNA.

Orlando and Jessica Perez started Oliver’s Ice Cream truck in fall 2019 doing events and curbside delivery. While both were gainfully employed, he at Peterbilt in Denton and she as a labor and delivery nurse, they wanted to be entrepreneurs. They identified a local gap in the food truck industry, which is projected to hit $1.1 billion in 2022, according to an IBISWorld report.

There has not been a traditional ice cream truck in Gainesville for about 20 or 30 years, according to Jessica Perez, co-owner of Oliver’s Ice Cream. While the truck was intended to supplement their income, they also just wanted to make people happy.

The Perezes bought an old, run-down mail truck, fixed it up, painted it pistachio green with red side walls and retrofitted it with freezers, counters and a loudspeaker playing ice cream truck jingles. The ice cream truck service kicked off in September and appeared at events like weddings, birthdays and company picnics. It also roamed Gainesville’s neighborhoods advertising an array of frozen treats.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced social distancing, Jessica Perez wanted to continue spreading smiles and joy with the ice cream truck, so the couple began to schedule area deliveries via posts on their business’s Facebook page. Customers message their orders and indicate how they will pay, either by mobile payment service or leaving cash on the porch.

Oliver’s Ice Cream drivers text when they are nearby and leave the ice cream at the door. Since they started delivering, their Facebook followers have shot up 50%.

In an April 23 post on social media, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce encouraged buying goods from local businesses and interacting with their social media pages to help drive traffic to their ecommerce sites as some of the many ways to support Cooke County businesses.

“We weren’t sure how people would respond to contactless delivery,” Perez said. “So, we thought, ‘why don’t we give the kids something to do in addition to getting ice cream?’”

When families received their deliveries, they also received a coloring page to enter Oliver’s Facebook coloring contest. Winners were announced April 20 on the Facebook page and received prizes.

“This is just another way to get out there and give the kids something to do during these hard times,” Perez said. “Hopefully, they will remember the time ice cream truck came to their house way out in the country.”

They also expanded their delivery footprint based on Facebook requests to Muenster, Lindsay, Callisburg and Valley View. Two weeks ago, they made more than 50 deliveries in Muenster and Lindsay alone. Because Perez is a nurse and works 12-hour shifts, they must take weekly breaks to revise their delivery strategy as business booms. Now, they are considering expanding the service into Pilot Point, Krum and Sanger.

“There are great people here, and we support each other,” Perez said. “I think once the county and country get back to normal, or even if this is the ‘new normal’ — once everything opens back up, I think that the community will be better for it. There is so much support for each other and Gainesville’s future.”

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