Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


August 24, 2009

What's Big, Gay, and Covered in Sprinkles?

The proprietor of one of Manhattan's newest, proudest food trucks insists that ice cream need not be so vanilla.

Shira Danan

Sriracha on your chocolate cone? If that quirky combo entices, the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck may be for you—big, gay, or not. The truck, a recent addition to Manhattan's accelerating mobile-food scene, is owned with pride by Doug Quint and his boyfriend Bryan Petroff.

Quint, a classically trained bassoonist and smiling bear of man, started truckin' at the beginning of the summer. He uses Twitter to transmit his ever-changing location and daily array of traditional, gourmet, and just-plain-weird toppings; devotees may wake up to such delicious tweets as "Pumpkin butter, peppermint syrup, fresh strawberry sundaes and shakes, choc mint cookies, pretzels, Grape Nuts, peanut butter cartwheels." (His agenda seems to be working—according to Quint's blog, the rainbow-themed Big Gay Ice Cream Truck logo has been sighted on shirts as far away as Okinawa.)

Doug Quint. Photo by Arnold Neimanis
"The notion that the truck really is somehow gay does go through people’s heads, and fortunately they realize just how dumb it is."

Doug Quint. Photo by Arnold Neimanis

When Gelf caught up with the ice cream man himself, he told us his last customers had been a pair of gorillas in bikinis, part of a promotion for a nearby spa. This reporter had a cup (big, straight mistake—cones are neater) of vanilla-chocolate swirl with a generous coating of curried coconut. In addition to the sweet treats, it is undeniably fun to affix the words "big gay" to practically everything. Without further ado, here's our big gay interview, conducted by email and in person, with the 38-year-old Washington Heights resident. It has been edited for clarity.

Gelf Magazine: How did you get involved in the big gay ice-cream business? What was your day job before you started working the ice cream scene?

Doug Quint: My "real job" is as a classical musician. I'm a conservatory-trained bassoonist. I play with freelance groups from Maine to Washington, DC, and have traveled the world with my little old bassoon.

Gelf Magazine: You're known for your gourmet and creative toppings, like curried coconut and espresso chocolate malt balls. What's the weirdest topping you've offered? The gayest?

Doug Quint: The only really "gay" thing is Trix Cereal…just because it's so colorful and queer. The weirdest topping? Wasabi pea dust seems shocking to some people, until they try it. Sriracha sauce is kind of surprising, too.

Gelf Magazine: What is a Choinkwich?

Doug Quint: A Choinkwich is our beautiful pork-baby! It's a freshly-made chocolate ice-cream sandwich with a layer of caramelized bacon. It's so wonderful; I tear up just thinking about it.

Gelf Magazine: What about the ice cream itself? Is there anything that sets the ice cream you serve apart from regular soft serve?

Doug Quint: Nope. Only the love that I give it. It's the same stuff you'd find from any number of trucks in NYC.

Gelf Magazine: What's your favorite ice cream flavor/topping combination?

Doug Quint: I don't serve anything that I don't like. All the toppings are friends to me. I'd never pick a favorite. The only one that I sometimes sample (and at this time in the summer I'm not eating much ice cream) is vanilla with curried coconut.

Gelf Magazine: My favorite! How do you stay in shape when you're surrounded by delicious treats all day?

Doug Quint: How funny that you'd ask this question! I've lost at least 15 pounds this summer. People don't realize what long shifts many ice-cream vendors work. When I'm on the truck it's typically for no less than 12 hours—all of them spent on my feet. There's not much time to eat anything. I test each new combination, and in the morning I always sample my ice cream and milks to make sure that everything is fresh. That's about all the ice-cream eating that I do. I weigh the least I have in five years, and I'm working around desserts!

Gelf Magazine: What's the hardest part about running an ice-cream truck?

Doug Quint: I'd say that the obvious answer is just the long hours. I'd also add that I like to interact with each customer. I really want them to smile, and to have a great time at my truck. It's hard work, but I wouldn't do it any other way. It's also a challenge to balance my home life, my ice cream work, and my career as a bassoonist—but I'm learning how it all works.

Gelf Magazine: The New York Times recently ran an article about turf wars among food carts. Have you experienced any harassment or intimidation on the streets? How do you decide where to park your truck when there's a truck on every other block?

Doug Quint: I have not been party to any sort of "turf war." Not in any way. Occasionally I'll pull up to a spot, and the halal cart parked there might want to make sure that they are still visible—that I'm not blocking the sight lines of their potential customers. That's as complicated as it gets—nothing that can't be worked out with a simple conversation.
As to where I park: The truck I drive is owned by a depot. The depot has certain corners that they like to have covered, and we worked together to find a spot that would appeal to my potential clientèle.

Gelf Magazine: You've been interviewed quite a few times since you started selling ice cream. Why do you think your truck has attracted so much attention?

Doug Quint: Bryan and I were discussing this earlier tonight. We can't be certain, but we do have some theories. The name of the truck—the word "gay" on something with such a general appeal—is certainly a factor. We lucked out early in the game, because before we had a truck we had a business name and a logo (designed by our good friend Jason O'Malley) that both had an appeal.
I've also been fortunate that Twitter is a perfect tool for me. It works well for all the food trucks, but since my account is used by me, and I tweet more than just the truck location, the followers get more insight into the business and the man behind it.
Another major factor is our economic situation. People need a cheap way to have their daily fun. So many people are unemployed that even going to a movie has ruled itself out. What I'm doing provides an inexpensive adventure. Since the truck isn't in a fixed position, you need to go through the effort of finding me; it's a bit of a scavenger hunt. You head out, you make it to my location while I'm still there, and you end up around people having an equally good time. You spend less than $5, have a cone, and the rest of your day is a little bit better for it.

OurScene TV on the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.

Gelf Magazine: In an interview with Gothamist, you mentioned feeling good about changing kids' associations with the word "gay." Do you think your truck is challenging homophobia?

Doug Quint: Yes, I do think so. Some people honestly don't want to order from me because the truck has the word "gay" on it. I think that many of the people who initially feel this are stepping back and wondering why this is their first reaction. The notion that the truck really is somehow gay, or that the food is going to make them queer, really does go through people's heads, and fortunately they realize just how dumb both of those ideas are.
The reaction by the online community has been 99.9999% amazing. The final, infinitesimally small fraction, a vocal group, is enraged by the truck. I think I've gotten the perfect ratio. If it wasn't pissing some people off, I wouldn't be doing it right.

Gelf Magazine: When will we get to hear the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck theme song? Do you actually ever drive your truck around playing music and stopping for customers or do you pretty much stay in one place?

Doug Quint: Our "theme song" is a great little tune written for us by the brilliant and beautiful Jane Wiedlin. She has sent me a recording of the song; she sang it for me, accompanying herself on guitar. It's so damned catchy that I'm beside myself with happiness whenever I think about it. She intends to record a fully produced version for me soon; she and I are incredibly eager for everyone to hear it.

Gelf Magazine: Will the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck be back next summer?

Doug Quint: Life is always evolving for me, but I suspect you'll see me on the streets again. I am currently in the midst of securing a firm legal basis for the company, so that we can grow into the future.

Shira Danan

Shira is a writer and comedian based in New York. If you can believe it, she blogs.

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Article by Shira Danan

Shira is a writer and comedian based in New York. If you can believe it, she blogs.

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