It was hot in St. Louis in May 2012.
My small business, Farm Fresh Cupcakes, was struggling to keep buttercream cool. Every Saturday, my husband Pete and I arrived at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market to sell cupcakes frosted to order, but the frosting was consistently melting in the humidity. “What can we give to people that showcases this beautiful, local produce that won’t MELT?!”
So, I bought an ice pop mold, a few pints of strawberries at the farmers’ market, and came back the following Saturday with strawberry cheesecake ice pops. Here’s an embarrassing selfie taken on May 14, 2012:
I was BLOWN AWAY by the reception of the pops. We sold out quickly (once we explained to people what they were) and immediately started planning more flavors. Luckily, the produce in the midwest during summertime is BOUNTIFUL so there was no end to the inspiration. Even though I rented space in a commercial kitchen, there was no freezer - so I was bootleggin’ these babies in my home freezer (shh, don’t tell anyone!). By August of 2012, we had multiple flavors perfected - including some of our still-faves: cucumber lime, avocado, peach basil, vietnamese coffee, watermelon, peaches & cream and cantaloupe.
By this point, we were a few months away from opening the storefront - Whisk: a Sustainable Bakeshop, on Cherokee Street in south city. The pops took a bit of a backseat while we rehabbed the building from top to bottom and opened on November 10, 2012. We got through that first winter with minimal pop-making, but we were ready to jump back in once spring 2013 rolled around.
SO. I had a commercial kitchen all to myself and 10 pop molds I’d purchased online. I cranked those suckers OUT. The pops would have to freeze for 12-14 hours, so only 100 could be made each day. Luckily, I lived above the shop at this point, so I could run downstairs when Whisk was closed to switch out the flavors in the freezer and set a new batch for the next morning.
And that’s how we made our artisan ice pops for six years. And it was nearly impossible to keep up with demand. Every summer was full of sticky hands and six different timers announcing when it was time to change each batch. We had five freezers dedicated to making and storing pops, but were running out of room. The lines at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market grew longer each Saturday, and folks that didn’t get their faves each week were bummed out, which then bummed ME out. But theeeeeeeeeen……………
WE BOUGHT A POP TRUCK! A 1984 AM General, to be exact. Toto is her name (for two reasons - one, my friend Andy had introduced me to that adorable video of Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd lip-syncing to “Africa” by Toto the night before, so “Africa” was stuck in my head all day and two, we picked the truck up from a seller in Kansas. BOOM, Toto). She hauled mail from ‘84 until 2011, when someone bought her to use as a hot dog truck.
In June 2018, I also purchased an ice pop machine - the molds with the mixes go into a polypropylene-glycol bath the the pops freeze in 20 minutes. WHICH IS A HUGE CHANGE FROM 12-14 HOURS. Shortly after that, we bought our trusty little pop cart - a cold-plate freezer that plugs in to charge, then holds sub-zero temps for 12 hours. Our plan was to be able to roll the cart up onto the truck so we wouldn’t have to use any generators or propane while vending. So all of that was in place.
But as it turns out, it’s a lot harder restoring a car than I thought. I figured I could clean it up a bit and get it wrapped and it would be good to go. But unfortunately, that was not the case. We spent the next year (YES, YEAR) getting it fixed - and here’s a summary!
First, there was no money. So I created a kickstarter - which was successful - YAY! thank you! - and started purchasing supplies (like paint stripper, a new carburetor, etc). But it didn’t matter what ridiculously toxic goop I slathered on that truck, those postal stripes weren’t budging. And the carburetor went in great (thanks, Alex!), but that didn’t get Toto running, so we had to start taking her to mechanics. But it turns out lots of places don’t work on cars with carbs. And so off Toto went, to four different places that thought they could help, but upon looking at her - could not.
We were finally referred to a truck specialist out in Overland - and they got her running after two months! It was mostly due to the fact that the radiator was totally worn down - so they built a new one for us, we drove her back into the city and then scheduled a sandblast guy - which is a thing - to come strip the rest of the paint off of her.
This is when things went downhill. By this point, all the money raised with the kickstarter was gone. I had spent over $700 in towing alone, and her two month stay out in Overland was not cheap. But the sandblasting would be great - all the paint would finally be gone, and we could finally get her cleaned and primed and WRAPPED.
Except we couldn’t, because the sandblast tech didn’t cover anything under the hood. So multiple pieces of machinery under there basically got destroyed by a high-powered avalanche of sand and glass. The biggest hit was the radiator…which is right in the front of the vehicle. The delicate brass fixings that had so lovingly been installed three days prior were totally ruined.
So then came the fun task of finding a new mechanic. I didn’t want to tow it out to Overland again, and poor Toto wasn’t going more than 20 feet before spraying radiator fluid all over the place, which was then staining the bare metal of the truck. At this point, I was 1) disappointed in hitting the year-long mark of having the truck and it not being on the road, 2) overwhelmed by the busy-ness of Whisk and spring kicking into gear, and 3) just absolutely pissed. I needed someone on my side who knew about vehicles and the way that they work, and could just FIX every single problem (and there were so, SO many, inside and out) - and then, like a godsend from the heavens above, came Bill from Auto Art.
Bill is AMAZING. We drove the truck over, the radiator spurting on the beautiful matte metal the entire way and pulled into the lot, where a perfectly restored 1968 Dodge A100 was parked. We immediately felt like Toto was in the right place as Bill walked Pete and I through all the things his crew would need to do to get Toto ready to drive. He warned us that it would be pricey - but I gave him the go-ahead and his crew made some miracles happen, for real. They patched every rusted-through hole, installed two new vending windows, built another new radiator, connected us with people to build a new roll-up door for the back-end and to get the truck wrapped, and were incredibly patient as I asked lots of questions and got my ducks (ahem, financials) in order.
Toto ran again! We zipped to St. Charles (thanks, Craftsman Utility Trailer!) to get the new door installed, then to Olivette (thanks, Installed Graphics!) to get the wrap job done. And…I mean, come on. Is this not the happiest truck you’ve ever seen?