Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 11: Barely Legal

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri finally start selling ice cream in San Francisco, and get to meet a bunch of people from Twitter. Read all the installments.

We have our health department permit, and now we can sell in San Francisco! We're still waiting on getting parking spots from Recreation and Parks, so until that goes through, we're doing the Off the Grid markets; they have a special permit so all the trucks can park there. We did two today. We worked straight through from 7 a.m. to midnight, but I don't care, I'm still high. I'm so proud! I'm so proud of us, I'm so proud of our truck, oh God, we did it, we went from having a crazy idea to having this giant truck that's legally parked right off Market Street, in the middle of everything, serving ice cream to the people of San Francisco.

I actually teared up a little bit when I saw the trains and the buses going by on Market Street and realized where I was. We put on the ice cream music in celebration. Just for a minute, so we didn't drive everyone crazy. It was kind of funny—some homeless person looked over and screamed, "SHUT UP!" Yeah, we're in San Francisco all right. We have exactly eight ice cream songs, and number six is banned. It's "La Cucaracha." Roach coaches, get it?

It went pretty well, but we ran out of everything. We ran out of vanilla ice cream; we ran out of hand-rolled cones, ice cream sandwiches, strawberry creamsicles. And one of our machines needs to be serviced; it was acting really funny. One minute the vanilla ice cream would be too soft and the nutmeg chocolate would be too hard, and the next minute the vanilla would be too hard and the chocolate would dribble out too soft. Hey, thanks, debut machine!

Watching people eat what we made was incredible. We've been working and working and working on this, but kind of in a vacuum, you know? We knew what we were making was wonderful, but watching people's eyes light up was such a trip. We have people that we've talked to on Twitter, and they'd come up and say, "Hey, I'm Verbal Cupcake! And I've been waiting for this for so long!" What a feeling, to hear that.

We made as much money as we wanted yesterday, but it doesn't seem like enough for the work we put in. Our food is very labor intensive, and considering our price point is $4, we're putting a lot of time and effort in for that $4. I wish that people understood that; sometimes they come up and go, "Four dollars?," like they can't believe an ice cream could cost that much, but if they knew how much work we put into it, that would seem like a bargain.

It was particularly cool meeting the other truck owners. You know, I haven't met an asshole truck owner yet, just people busting their asses as hard as you are, and they do it because they love it. If you're going to do a truck, that's what you need. These are people who believe in what they're doing, but they don't have the money for a restaurant. It's inspiring.

So now the final thing is getting a space from Rec and Parks, and we still have rent negotiations and contracts to sign, and meetings, and it's looking like it's going to be December or January, which by the way is a great time to launch an outdoor ice cream business! Right in the middle of winter! Thank God for Off the Grid, is all I can say; at least we can make money there. I can't quit my catering job yet; I have zero money, and in fact I just took some money out of my retirement fund. That part is very stressful, and I'm so lucky to have a mom who I can call when I'm in trouble. My mom is so proud of us. She keeps saying, "You're so smart to go out and make your own job in a recession!" And I say back, "Mom, that is so cool. Can I borrow $5,000?"