Doug Quint is part bassoonist, part ice cream man. And not just any old ice cream man at that. Just last month he and boyfriend Bryan Petroff launched the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, a venture that's blown up beyond what they ever imagined. With the help of Twitter (they have over a thousand followers to whom they tweet toppings of the day, truck location and solicit suggestions), the truck has become a bit of a summer hotspot to those seeking both a good cone and some good humor.
Quint jokes with his customers while serving up soft serve concoctions, 3 bucks for standard cones and toppings and 4 bucks for premium toppings such as ginger cookies, wasabi pea dust, dulce de leche, nilla wafers, pumpkin butter, curried coconut, cocoa nibs, cayenne and Nutella. The newest concoction is a "choinkwich," an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate ice cream, cookies, Nutella and caramelized bacon for which he only offered to his Twitter followers, selling out despite not putting it on the menu. This week, we cruised over to Union Square and Quint took his first break EVER to sit down and give us the scoop.
How did you come up with this idea? I had the opportunity to have an ice cream truck this summer. A flute player friend, Andrea Fisher, has been doing this for a few years and her depot let her bring in some new drivers so she asked around if any of her friends wanted to do it and I had been a little jealous that she had been driving an ice cream truck for a summer job because that's the weirdest job there is. So I said, "Yeah, I want to drive an ice cream truck." And then I started thinking, kind of happily about the suspect nature of a middle-aged, white, gay man driving an ice cream truck and the fact that people would talk under their breath and say, "There goes the old Queen with his ice cream truck." so I thought, well let's completely head them off at the pass here. Make the truck so flaming that there's no way anyone can claim anything. Let's just go for it.
How did your friends and family react to the idea? They just laughed. No one is surprised by me anymore.
So how's it going so far? Great, honestly. From sales: it's good. It's not great, it's not bad. I'm not a real hustler, you know. The people who make the most money at this are the ones who can really draw people in. So I sort of rely on my brand and my nature, which I think are both pretty good-spirited, to bring people in. And the toppings, that's part of our brand. So I would say it's going far better than I expected that it could of. Especially because of Twitter, that's the huge thing. I'm having a good time and I'm enjoying people's reactions, both good and bad to it.
And you're also a bassoonist, how do you balance that? Well the first month of doing this, for June, I really didn't take any bassoon work. I have no business experience. I have no food industry experience. Never done any of this so I sort of cut the bassoon out for awhile and now I'm sort of integrating back to it. For the summer it's 75% bassoon work and 25% ice cream truck. It could easily be 100% ice cream truck but I can't let my bassoon playing go fallow. I have to keep it up. And I want to keep it up. This was going to be something fun to do during the summer that's become all-consuming. In a great way! I'm not knocking it. But I have to work to keep the balance.
Wow, how do you think of that stuff? I don't know. A lot of it is my boyfriend. He's got great taste and remembers these things. I like to say it's half imagination and half theft. A lot of it is stuff we're adapting from other people, for sure. I'm not making any bones about it, it's just stuff I want to have on soft serve.
What about your bacon... choinkwich? Well, you know bacon and chocolate is turning up everywhere. And I knew I had to do bacon as a topping and it didn't work. It turns out you really have to chew bacon to get a taste out of it. And the soft serve would melt and you'd be left with this gob of bacon, so it didn't work. It might work with a scoop of hard-packed ice cream but with soft serve... no. So I started making these Nutella sandwiches and I thought, well maybe bacon as a layer would work because you have to chew the cookie, you have to chew the bacon. So I thought that was the way to go, Bryan thought of the idea of caramelizing it so there you go. And we think it's gonna stick. I'm not selling it today but yesterday I did a couple pounds of bacon and it all sold out. People came running like zombies, didn't even look at the menu and just said, "Where's the bacon?" Like junkies. It was great.
What's your favorite item on the menu? At this point I'm not eating any of it. I'm sampling all of it but not eating any of it. And so far I've lost about fifteen pounds this summer. But having Nutella around the house is a bad scene, a bad scene. I love the Nutella sandwich. We've also done maple syrup on ice cream and I love it.
Did you guys try anything else that didn't work out so well? We had a test kitchen a couple weeks before we started doing this but I can't remember what the big bomb was. But there was something that everyone just said, "Oh, no." I had three friends over and everyone pushed their plate away. And I think we might have known going in that it wasn't going to work.
What do you think about Twitter? I'm on it now and I can't stop tweeting. It's weened me off of Facebook almost completely which I'm okay with. I don't go online when I'm in here so I want it all to the point. And I thought Twitter was going to be all celebrity, Mr. and Mrs. Kutcher, that type of crap. It's been so ungodly useful that it makes me kind of angry that there's something so useful that's so popular. I want useful things to be dirty little secrets but between having Gothamist on there and a couple of food blogs and CNN and the G train and the A train tweeting me and it's really way too useful.
But the way it's helped me, I mean I wouldn't be doing... I would have lasted two weeks. I had a couple hundred followers in the first few weeks but in the last week I've picked up over a thousand. And they're really fun people, they show up and they just want to have fun. It's a really great spirited thing to do. And also it's making the truck what I want it to be, like a thing that you run out to do, like a destination. You skip out of your office, you go away for 45 minutes, you find out where I am on twitter, you go out and you spend four dollars on a cone and you've had a little afternoon adventure. That's another reason I don't want to do it everyday. I want it to be fun. I don't want people to know exactly where I'm going to be and when, I want them to look it up. It's like a scavenger hunt, it's fun!
Have you had any turf wars with any other vendors or anything like that? Nothing like that. I've been reading about it but no. Maybe it's because I'm an ice cream truck and I belong to a depot and I'm not an independent. All the halal guys, everyone I work around... the only thing is maybe a halal guy wants his umbrella visible so I'll back up a few feet. That's it. And they are all making me lamb sandwiches. Vendors trade stuff dollar for dollar, you know give me a hot dog, give me a cone, everything is great. It's a really interesting community all over the map. You have ethnically, socially, everything is so diverse but when you're vending on the street everyone is looking out for each other. I hear the stories but I haven't experienced it.
Do you have any other favorite food trucks? I know you follow some of them on Twitter too. I do and I haven't been able to get to a lot of them but I am a big fan of Rickshaw, for sure.
How long have you lived in New York? This is my 20th summer, I'm from Maine. Now I live in Washington Heights, I moved here when I was seventeen.
What's the best thing about living in New York? There's a certain sense of accomplishment in living here. You feel like you're doing it. Even if you're failing at it, you're doing it. That's what I like about it. Even if you're a miserable failure in the gutter, you're in the gutter of New York.
Exactly! Is there anything you would change about New York? Well, I think I'm trying to do it. I just wish people would lighten up a little bit. People come for an ice cream and they're not smiling and there's something wrong there. So you have to remind people to have some fun. That's what we are trying to do here.
Do you have any only in New York moments? Things that you think would only happen here? Most of them are so gross I can't even talk about them. I lived at 78th and Amsterdam for 15 years. I was always surprised by the middle class folks in that neighborhood who would dive into the trash. Why pay for the Post when you can get a filthy, coffee-stained copy for free? Anyhow, that's not the story. I had a really big cat, and a really small apartment. To keep the place odor-free, I used to shovel the catbox and put the waste into brown paper lunch bags. I'd do this right before I'd leave the apartment so that I could toss the bags into the corner trash can.
One day I did exactly that, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy nearly jump into the trash after my bag. What did he think I was dropping? The take from a jewel heist? I had to watch him. He crossed the street, opened the bag, and tried to figure out what was in it. I mean- he had his face nearly IN the bag. When he finally figured out what it was, he shrieked like a little girl, threw the bag into the street, and ran off. I laughed for days over that, and still bust up over it.
Do you have any memorable encounters on the truck: good, bad, awkward? I'm surprised by the number of girls who come up to the truck, order a cone and I serve them a cone and they lean over and spit their gum out right in front of the truck. More than a few times. I hand them a cone and they just lean over and they don't even spit it out, the gum just sort of falls out of their mouths right in front of the truck. I go pick it up.
It's like your front yard! Yeah, so that surprises me. Some people come up ready to argue about prices even though they are posted but in general, people are great. I can't complain. Get back to me in a few months and there might be a different story.
What about people who see the sign? Any weird reactions? Most everyone just laughs and takes a picture. Teenage kids sometimes act like I should be embarrassed or something like that and they'll come up to me and go, "So what's big and gay about your truck?" and I'll say, "Me!" and they're so disarmed that I can just admit that right off the bat that they don't have a comeback. It's sort of over.
Are you working on any new recipes right now? I saw something on your Twitter about coffee? Yeah, I brought some coffee back from the Dominican Republic, this great free-range coffee from over there and I'm working on integrating it. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to go. There's a few things I haven't cracked out like grape nuts, real standards that I need to bring on.
What's your favorite cheap eat? Koronet Pizza. Broadway and 112th. Huge slices that I used to eat when I was an undergraduate. That's my number one.
What New Yorker do you admire? I don't know if I'd say I admire her but I have this huge fantasy of Amy Sedaris coming and working with me on the ice cream truck and what would happen.
Do you have any words for the UWS anti-junk food mom? People... they are making their kids into calorie phobes and moderation people, come on. Kids will say, "I want this," and their mother will say, "You can't have that, it's all sugar." Well, everything on here is pure sugar, lady! Moderation people. Just have fun, back off. Same words go to the Chelsea boys who won't eat ice cream. The moms up there who won't let their five-year-olds have sugar, and for the guys over there who won't have the sugar, but God knows what they are putting into their bodies. Lighten up people. Come on.
Last question: Do you have a Big Gay Theme Song? No, I've got to get something played on the harpsichord. But I don't yet, we're going to work on that. My patron saint is Jane Wiedlin so maybe "Our Lips Are Sealed," play it on the harpsichord or something like that.