Here’s the story on the genesis, in 2009, of the name Big Gay Ice Cream. People frequently say that we “are the product of market research” or “decided to target gay ice cream eaters” or we’re “flaunting our sexuality” with the name. People say we stole our name from a meme.
Boy, that’s not how the name came about. Not at all. Keep reading.
I (Doug, on the right in that photo) am a trained classical musician. I studied the bassoon at Juilliard, and then went on to play with groups such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Boston Pops, American Ballet Theater and with numerous Broadways shows.
Back in the winter of 2009 I decided I would do “something else” that coming summer. I had just completed the comprehensive exams for my PhD and wanted to take a few months off from music. I didn’t know what I job I was looking for, I just knew that it needed to be experiential. I was feeling inspired by the great David Sedaris essay “The Santaland Diaries,” in which Sedaris took a job as an elf at Macy’s just to see what being an elf at Macy’s was like. I was *not* going to work a counter job. I wanted something more like… assistant to an exterminator, perhaps. It was only going to be for one summer and of course I wanted to do something successful- but honestly if they whole thing went totally wrong, so be it- it would be fun to tell people about the summer job that blew up in my face. I kept an open mind and spent a few weeks watching “help wanted” on Craigslist. Nothing was catching my eye.
Then something DID catch my eye. My friend Andrea Fisher (a Juilliard-trained flutist) had spent the previous few summers working an ice cream truck. A detail- the majority of ice cream trucks in NYC are owned by very few people. Bosses own small fleets and use what amounts to “day labor” to run them. You show up, you sign out a truck, you give up a cut to the owner. The end. The overhead is nil- someone else owns the truck and your supplies come out of your earnings. Basic, simple, and so so cheap to get running. Andrea was great at the ice cream truck game so the guy she worked for asked her to find some new drivers for the upcoming summer. One evening I looked at Facebook and her status message was “if any of you are looking for work this summer and want to drive an ice cream truck, let me know.”
So there it was. I would have an ice cream truck that summer.
I decided right away that I would be the happiest damned ice cream man that ever drove the streets of New York City. No Bluetooth headset. Smile at customers. Earn their $3. Make them happy. Bryan went a little deeper and brought up the idea of updating the ice cream truck menu. It’s been the same sprinkles and dips for 50 years… all good stuff, but let’s do a little sprucing-up. So there was our two-fold mission. I’d be delirious and we’d come up with some fun new treats for an otherwise stale menu.
I decided to write a diary about the project; really to tell my friends what it took to get this ice cream truck concept on the road.. We wanted to name the truck but had no idea what to go with. Certainly not a vanity name, no simple “Doug’s Ice Cream." I started a Facebook page for my ongoing diary and invited my friends to “like” it. Because we didn’t know what we would be calling the truck I named the page “The big gay ice cream truck.” This was back in the day of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and we sort of felt like we were queer-eyeing an ice cream truck. We figured eventually we’d come up with a permanent name for our big gay ice cream truck but that’s not how it played out. The name of the page made people laugh, and folks starting joining the Facebook page purely so that their feed would say “John Doe is a fan of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.” The name was just a goof. When we actually GOT a truck people realized this was no joke, and we realized that it was decided for us by all the Facebook “likes.” We were The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.
The name has nothing to do with anything in particular. Yeah, the founders are gay. We’ve been “accused” of being straight and trying to cash in on… whatever. It’s all probably more “gay” in the old “happy” definition. Like I said, my first part of the truck's mission was for me to go out there and be a grinning fool; to make every customer feel better about their lives for the time it took to eat an ice cream. Mission accomplished: GOURMET magazine called me “the happiest street food vendor in the history of street food” or something like that. The second part of our mission was to update the menu and create some great treats. I think we’ve done pretty well with that, too.
There you go. No research, no planning, no anything. The name found us and we kept it.