I am by no means an ice cream gal, but when I found out that the Big Gay Ice Cream truck would be in front of Butcher & Bee for a few hours on a Sunday, I became one. This event would be unlike other partnerships between food trucks and local restaurants around town; the Big Gay Ice Cream truck is on its Southern tour, their second stop was Charleston and this wasn’t any old grilled cheese or banh mi truck we’re talking about. This was a truck named the most influential food truck in the country and the only truck ever invited to attend the James Beard House in New York. And the highest distinction? It’s an ice cream truck.
Ice cream is one of those incorruptible things that triggers a certain mindset — unless you were to drop it smack on the ground — then there might be some tears. Ice cream is pure, fast-melting fun, synonymous with childhood, bouncy balls and most of all, summertime. This ice cream state-of-mind is where Big Gay Ice Cream Co-Owner Douglas Quint found himself one summer, and how his now nationally known truck simply started. In an interview, BGIC Office Manager Patt Devery said that, “Doug wanted to do something weird over the summer, and an ice cream truck seemed like the weirdest fun.” And the “Salty Pimp,” the owners’ premiere soft serve cone, is about as weird and fun as it gets. Instead of using traditional names for their ice cream, the owners went to Twitter and came back with the current BGIC favorites including the “Bea Arthur,” the “American Globs” and the “Mermaid.” But the Salty Pimp? That was all Quint. In the opening line of his interview with Epicuriousity, Quint muses, “I’m still sort of shocked when I eat a salty pimp.” As for the truck’s name, it was something of a no brainer. Quint said, “I called it the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck because the whole thing seemed kind of gay. You know I was a middle aged guy in an ice cream truck that was going to sell high end topping in the streets of New York!”
Quint and his partner/co-owner Bryan Petroff started BGIC in 2009, and this year will mark their fifth anniversary selling soft serve — now with two stores in New York, and two up-and-coming locations in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. As a part of this anniversary, they decided to reacquaint themselves with their old wheels and drive down south — all for a very specific end-point in mind: their last stop would be to join the Annual Southern Foodways Symposium from Oct. 23-26, put on by the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Miss.
The theme for the SFA’s seventeenth symposium is “Who is Welcome at the Welcome Table?” and members plan to ask the gritty questions of inclusion that have been long side-stepped in this region, such as this: Does our “southern hospitality” include all ethnicities, genders and classes? Questions like these are currently being addressed head on, and in this particular circumstance, it’s all happening at the dinner table — pass the fried chicken, will you? As Quint says of the Southern tour and BGIC’s participation in the SFA Symposium, “Tighten your bible belts, it’s going to be a wild ride!”
According to the collaboration between the director of the SFA, John T. Edge, BGIC and the owners at Butcher & Bee, the ice cream truck’s Southern tour in is a sign of a movement towards this kind of inclusion, at least in the food industry. All members are seemingly both contributing and benefitting from this attempt, as BGIC develops flavors such as the “Pecan Gobbler,” as an addition and warm welcome on their southern tour to cities like our own, Atlanta, and Birmingham, Ala. And according to Butcher and Bee’s Randi Weinstein, BGIC’s presence in front of Butcher & Bee brought people out that didn’t yet know about B&B and their newly opened sister location, The Daily.
I arrived at Butcher & Bee on the big, gay day at 3:30 p.m., and the line was not only stretched out to the edge of King Street, but was wrapped around The Daily and even in front of the shops next door. I got nervous — after all this, was I not going to be able to taste the flavors of the Bea Arthur, in all its vanilla wafer glory? As I stood there in line, I made the decision to wait, and I mean really wait — for over two hours, along with the dozens of heads in front of me and the frustrated newcomers trickling in behind. We all waited differently — I chatted with my ice cream-crazed friends, one woman popped open a bottle of wine and little kids ran restlessly all around B&B’s parking lot — Quint even made an appearance to appease us with some coffee giveaways. It was all quite comical, standing in line, jumping up and down on our knees and talking to strangers, everyone seeming like kids again, waiting in line for the ice cream man.
As I bit into my Bea Arthur, I had never appreciated the separate notes of an ice cream cone more — the chill of the soft serve, the dulce de leche, the crunch of the wafers — it all became worth it. In Quint’s piece with Epicuriosity, he said he feels “like ice cream is a universal food, you don’t need teeth to eat ice cream. So, you can be eight months old, you can be 108 years old, you can be the richest man in America, or you can be the poorest man, and you can afford [ice cream] with pocket change.” This universality of ice cream is what very apparently makes it so incorruptible — it’s for everyone, and might carry along with it just what we need to usher in further ideals of inclusion and equality in the South: an ice-cream state of mind.