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Ice Cream Wars
Judging New York City's Ice Cream Trucks
When you grow up in suburban Minnesota the little things seem extra exciting, like the ice cream man coming to the neighborhood. I remember running to my parents and frantically begging them for money (HURRY HE'S GETTING AWAY) before running out to the ice cream man and buying the same thing I always bought: a Ninja Turtle ice cream bar.
The ice cream was subpar and two soulless, flavorless gum ball eyes stared up at you from a deformed face when you opened the package. It never really looked like a Ninja Turtle because it had probably been sitting in the ice cream truck's dirty freezer for months, but if there were two things I loved as a kid it was gum balls and Ninja Turtles, so I convinced myself that this treat was the best thing in the world and always looked forward to the ice cream man's next visit.
That is until the day my mom informed me that "icky ice cream men" sold drugs. I was shocked. The same gentle soul who sold me Ninja Turtle ice cream bars also sold drugs? Just when you thought you knew someone.
I couldn't believe it, and I swore off the ice cream man forever. He didn't come around much after that anyway (I think the neighborhood parents chased him off) so my experiences with the ice cream man had come to an end.
Or so I thought.
I grew up to become an ice cream connoisseur, visiting ice cream shops far and wide but avoiding ice cream trucks. I'm not sure whether this avoidance was a subconscious aversion due to my childhood trauma or whether it was due to my ice cream snobbery; anything sold from a truck was surely for the proletariat and would offend my discerning palate. I was over the Ninja Turtle ice cream bars.
As an ice cream connoisseur, I especially didn't concern myself with the likes of soft serve. That goop that squirts out of a machine and piles up in a compact swirl like cartoon dog shit? That's not ice cream. I looked down my nose at soft serve the way Europeans look down on Hershey's chocolate ("Hershey's?! That's not real chocolate!")
But after living in New York City long enough, I noticed that ice cream trucks selling soft serve were unavoidable when the weather starts warming up. I eventually decided that if I was to become a real New Yorker I had to try this mobile soft serve. But which one should I try? Each truck seem to belong to one of two factions (New York Ice Cream and Mister Softee), so I decided to try both and judge them on a scale of 0-5 for several criteria to determine which was better.
Criteria 1: Branding
I’ll start with the elephant in the room: “New York Ice Cream” is almost totally devoid of branding. It is literally ice cream sold in New York. Apparently when they first came on the scene they called themselves “Master Softee” which, of course, is one letter away from the name of their competitor, prompting a lawsuit. If you weren’t sure whether naming themselves ‘Master Softee’ demonstrated a complete lack creativity, they proved it once again when (after the lawsuit) they changed their name and settled on “New York Ice Cream.”
Their website, chock-full of typos, informs the reader that New York Ice Cream is now available in South Florida (?) and they added a palm tree to the background of their logo. I quickly went from unimpressed to utterly confused by their branding.
New York Ice Cream tried to copy their competitor and still ended up with awful and incoherent branding. 0 points for New York Ice Cream.
I would award Mister Softee points for at least having a coherent brand strategy and a website that makes sense, but their name and logo creep me out. It’s like the catholic priest of ice cream logos. 0 points for Mister Softee’s branding too.
Criteria 2: Size
You caught me, I did take a quick bite out of each before snapping a picture. But Mister Softee has New York Ice Cream beat on both height and girth for similar prices. Also, the transactions on my credit card statement were labeled “Mister Softee” and “3 De De De” so I’m really not sure what the hell is going on over at New York Ice Cream corporate. 5 points for Mister Softee and 1 point for New York Ice Cream for being smaller and making me think my credit card had been compromised.
Criteria 3: Taste
To be honest, I couldn’t tell a huge difference. They were nearly identical. Neither actually tasted like ice cream, but they weren’t terrible. They tasted and felt more like cold, stiff whipped cream laden with chemicals. According to Serious Eats, this ice cream contains “stabilizers to keep it almost pudding-like at soft serve temperature.” Mister Softee was a little bit better though. 3 for Mister Softee, 2 for New York Ice Cream.
Criteria 4: Availability of Drugs
Unfortunately neither ice cream man offered me drugs despite what my mom told me all those years ago. Zeroes all around.
Mister Softee beats New York Ice Cream 8 to 3. They weren’t my favorite, but they honestly weren’t bad. Next time I’m out walking on a hot summer day with some money in my pocket, I may just stop at one of these ice cream trucks. And if they aren’t selling drugs I’ll use that money to buy some soft serve instead.
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