The latest big-deal food truck on the scene? Lake Street Creamery, an ice cream and float concept created by former toy designers Beth Colla and Tim Ferguson that hit the streets June 27th. Lake Street did practice runs over the winter, setting up card tables in the shadow of popular mobile establishments like Don Chow. Colla and Ferguson added their truck to the continually growing line of L.A. food trucks on the heels of Councilman Tom LaBonge's truck-resistant parking proposal, a move that coincides with a small but persistent backlash against food trucks.
Good news for ice cream lovers: Colla and Ferguson aren't scared of LaBonge. They shared their thoughts on the Mobile Food Vendors Association, flavors that should be disgusting, and kitten videos as genius marketing plan. Turn the page for our interview.
Squid Ink: What's your culinary background?
Beth Colla: We just like to eat. We have no culinary experience.
Tim Ferguson: It all started with doughnut ice cream. I was making it for friends, and they thought we should sell it.
SI: It looks like the focus now is on the floats. Which are your favorites?
TF: The first one we really went nuts for was the Vanilla Cream and doughnut ice cream, which tastes exactly like a glazed doughnut. And the black licorice and grape soda should be awful. It should be disgusting. That's why we called it Weird Creep. But it's good. It's very 1960s.
SI: Did you just buy a truck and go for it?
TF: For a few months we were operating with other food trucks, just setting up a table next to them, and we learned how nice everybody is. They're really helpful and supportive – I thought it would be more cutthroat.
SI: So there's a brotherhood of food trucks?
BC: It started sucking us deeper and deeper. We're discovering stuff along the way. There's so much that comes up that you don't even expect. I'm discovering the whole culture of food trucks. And we're really excited about the Mobile Food Vendors Association. The dues are worth it, they advocate for us, everybody works together – like, they'll make sure there's a good spread of trucks at events.”
SI: You bought the truck right in the middle of a mini-backlash against food trucks. Are you worried about that at all?
TF: The backlash isn't coming from the bottom up, it's coming from the top down. The good news is food trucks are really visible. The bad news is they're really visible. Our every move is watched. But honestly, I don't think we're the threat to restaurants that they think we are. Right now there are more restaurants, they make more money, and they're more powerful. They're going to wield that power if they can, but the thing we have is that people love food trucks. Plus, there are 4,000 lunch trucks. We've added 80 of these chi-chi ones. It's not a proliferation like they're claiming.
SI: So renting a brick and mortar spot was never an option?
TF: We could've rented a spot for the amount of money we spent, but I'd be really nervous. And I'd have picked this block [Sunset Junction], but Pazzo Gelato's already here. I don't know where else I'd go, which neighborhood would be good.
BC: There's a huge benefit to being able to move to where the customers are, when they're there.
SI: It seems like you really reached out to potential customers with your videos of kittens wearing hats and eating mini ice cream cones. How did you first think to combine kittens and dessert?
BC: People talk about our marketing campaign being genius…we didn't even think to link the kittens and the ice cream at first, we just did that for fun. And then New York Daily News and Bill O'Reilly covered it, and marketing blogs were talking about our genius plan.
TF: We joked that it might go viral, but then it actually did!
SI: Do you have faith in your accidental kitten business plan?
TF: We've sold ice cream in the middle of the night in winter, so I think it'll be fine. It was even raining.
BC: Things are working out so far. I mean, the ice cream's really good.