By GREGORY ZELLER //
I scream, you scream … but only Richard Blech screens for ice cream.
It’s taken Blech years of diligent Internet searches to assemble the yesteryear fleet of The Vintage Ice Cream Guys, a Jericho-based startup that delivers classic products – original Good Humor bars, old-school candies like Dots and Bit-O-Honey – using actual trucks from bygone eras.
These are not replicas. Each of the three trucks in the fleet is a real-deal antique from the old days, and Blech, an attorney and accountant by trade, will happily share the details.
The trucks – Ford models dating from 1969, 1966 and 1949 – all served the Good Humor Corp. of America until the 1970s. That’s when gas shortages, among other factors, convinced U.K.-based multinational consumer-goods conglomerate Unilever, which owned the Good Humor brand, to get out of the truck-based retail delivery business, according to Blech.
“They sold the trucks off to the drivers,” he said. “The drivers kept their routes and used the trucks as their livelihoods. And they literally ran them into the ground.”
Most of the iconic white trucks died from the vehicular equivalent of exhaustion; nearly a dozen, Blech noted, were used in the construction of an artificial reef 10 miles south of Nassau County’s Atlantic Beach. Few survived.
But through the grace of collectors and even a few like-minded entrepreneurs, some did – and finding them has been Blech’s central preoccupation since he first thought to carve a creamy niche out of history.
“Searching out and acquiring antique trucks and packaging them with a vintage server and vintage ice cream … we would basically bring back memories of childhood,” he said.
Reviving those memories, it turned out, would take time: 10 years of exhaustive daily Internet searches, according to Blech, to weed out lemons that were “too far gone” and identify potential cherries.
“I perused classic car ads nonstop, every day of my life,” he told Innovate LI. “I would search ‘Good Humor trucks for sale.’ It wasn’t easy.
“They don’t turn over that often,” Blech added. “It’s really rare to be the first to find one. And they normally require a lot of renovation.”
He ultimately found his dreamboat – the 1966 model, in relatively good shape – at F40 Motor Sports, a specialty shop in Portland, Conn., owned by automotive-restoration master Wayne Carini of the syndicated TV show “Chasing Classic Cars.” And in 2014, Blech finally launched G.H. Holdings Group Ltd., dba The Vintage Ice Cream Guys, with cofounder Jorge Fernandez.
Blech, who still maintains private law and accounting practices, and Fernandez – still a commercial financing specialist for a large international bank, with a background in small-business formation – made a formidable team. But the startup’s real ace in the hole, according to its president, is its products.
“It’s not just that I like ice cream,” Blech said. “Ice cream makes people happy.”
The model is simple: The Vintage Ice Cream Guys don’t travel delivery routes, but stand ready to appear at special events of all sizes, from enormous charity drives to corporate grand openings to weddings. The company scores supplies as needed from local Long Island distributors and in its two years has run up an impressive list of mid- to high-level appearances.
Now boasting the three trucks – Craig’s List led Blech to the 1969 model and a private ad led him to a California collector who had the mint-condition 1949 truck under wraps – The Vintage Ice Cream Guys have dished it out at TD Bank grand openings across Long Island and at last month’s Bethpage Federal Credit Union 75th anniversary celebration.
In full vintage costume, the partners and others – Blech often recruits his teenage sons – have also graced the opening of the American Armor Museum in Bethpage and the most recent Cruising For a Cure fundraiser in Hicksville. This spring, they even took floor space at the New York Auto Show, which was “huge for us,” according to Blech, who noted a million visitors-plus at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center during the April showcase.
That’s invaluable to a business like The Vintage Ice Cream Guys, according to the self-described “guerrilla marketer,” who also directs a personalized e-mail advertising campaign directly targeting party planners, venues and private corporations.
“Every time you do an event with 100 people, you’re going to get referrals,” Blech said. “This is a business where you really plant seeds for the long term.”
Materially, the business is sound. Modern mechanics can handle the automotive aspects of the aging fleet, according to the president, who noted the trucks are direct forbearers of current Ford F-150 models. Ample stock is available from regional distributors and, as independent agents, Blech and Fernandez are free to add whatever products they like – allowing them to discuss cross-marketing opportunities with Long Island-based “specialty food purveyors,” Blech said.
“We have broached several,” he added. “Part of being a good small business is to cross-market and promote other local brands and startups.”
The next local promotions might occur in Florida. Blech referenced ongoing negotiations with a fourth vintage truck owner – another dedicated online discovery – and plans to station a new vehicle in the Sunshine State, a potentially year-round market with “very similar demographics to New York,” including high-net-worth individuals and large corporate centers.
The entrepreneur recalls “closing my eyes and swallowing” when he wrote the check for the 1949 truck, which – including taxes and fees – ran nicely to six figures. And acquisition of a fourth truck would surely require another significant investment.
But the partners believe their retro dessert niche, while small, “has a very high potential return,” Blech noted.
“We feel the limited number of trucks still left provides us with a unique product and service, and we’re definitely in growth mode,” he said. “And not just geographically. Adding other products is a natural evolution.
“Vintage candy wasn’t our original thinking, but when you have a small business you go with the flow,” Blech added. “People go crazy when they see that stuff.”
The Vintage Ice Cream Guys
What’s It? Old-school goodies in antique Good Humor trucks
Brought To You By: Enterprising ice-cream lovers Richard Blech and Jorge Fernandez
All In: $50,000, self-invested by the partners, to purchase their first classic truck
Status: Scooping a niche one special event at a time