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Creative Citrus Heights couple launches mobile ice cream parlor

Made in the Shade, mobile ice cream
Ed and Valerie Higgins stand in front of their new ice cream truck, outside their home in Citrus Heights. // Photo: Hazel Ford

By Hazel Ford–
Ed and Valerie Higgins, the creative local couple who first made headlines last December for their extravagant synchronized Christmas light display, are at it again with a new business venture.

In March, the pair launched “Made in the Shade,” a mobile ice cream parlor that is already making the rounds at various events and private parties in the Sacramento area, serving up homemade ice cream, sundaes, and milkshakes.

The couple, who moved to Citrus Heights from Thousand Oaks last year, have never owned an ice cream business and have been on a whirlwind experience learning how to make it all work. But the effort is already paying off, with the couple already selling 200 cones in two hours at a recent event.

The Sentinel caught up with Ed Higgins last week for an interview, which is included below in Q&A format:

How did you come up with the idea for a mobile ice cream parlor?
There are four of us — my wife, Valerie, and I; her daughter, and our son-in-law. Ever since I met my wife, and we’ve been together 16 years, we’ve been making ice cream.

We have three homemade ice cream makers, and we always brought ice cream to the Fourth of July party. She would go crazy and have 30 toppings. We’d just make vanilla, then everyone can customize to their taste. Even though it was for adults, they’d act like kids with it.

This is how “Made in the Shade” really happened: two years ago, we were at the Thousand Oaks Chili Cook-Off, and they had a soft-serve truck there. We went and bought ice cream, and we thought, “This is real good.”

The light bulb went off. I said “Let’s do ice cream — look at the line in front of that truck! There’s always a line; we’re waiting 15 minutes just to get an ice cream cone.” Valerie said, “That’s brilliant! We love ice cream; but we know nothing about it.”

Related: Couple brings elaborate musical Christmas light show to Citrus Heights yard

We started calling half-a-dozen people who are in the ice cream business; some in Nevada, some in Arizona. These are people who own ice cream trucks, like we wanted to do.

It turns out that when people are successful, they want to tell their story. They just started talking, and all of them said, “Don’t buy a franchise; buy your own truck. It’s less expensive, and you can come up with something creative.”

We were already thinking about how cool it would be to own an ice cream truck, but then Valerie said, “No, an ice cream parlor.” Nobody’s ever thought of that idea… not one of the big ice cream companies has a mobile parlor, nothing even close to it.

Imagine what a good birthday present it would make; “Oh honey, I’ve got the cake but I forgot the ice cream.” That kind of thing wouldn’t be a problem when you can have a whole ice cream parlor pull up in your driveway. You can have sundaes, and milkshakes, and soft serve — all right there in your yard.

What was it like preparing to open the business?
We officially got our license in early March. There was such a huge learning curve, even just getting the licenses. Because we’re working with real soft serve, we had to get a milk and dairy certification.

We needed two certifications, and it took a while to get the truck inspected for functionality. There’s restaurant inspections, hardware inspections… inspections upon inspections. Valerie had to get food safety certified, as well.

What has it been like owning an ice cream truck so far?
Owning an ice cream truck is a lot more work than people think. It’s a lot. Just the ice cream mix alone is very heavy.

The sterilization process is intense; we have to sterilize every morning and every night. We have to sterilize absolutely everything. If you have bacteria on a hamburger, you can cook it out. You don’t with ice cream, that’s why we have to be so thorough. There’s a lot of pieces to the ice cream maker, and cleaning that is labor intensive.

Even driving the truck is tough. We have to clean it, maintain it — everything. We have to do everything a big restaurant would do, on wheels.

But the reward to all of that hard work is seeing the kids and how happy the ice cream makes them. It gives us smiles on our faces all day.

Do you make all of your own ice cream?
Our ice cream is all freshly homemade by Valerie. We literally just got our dairy license, and we basically live in the dairy capital. Here in California, we have our pick of the dairy we want to use.

Several creameries gave us mixes to try out for free. They basically said, “Here, take it. Try different styles and see what you think.” We picked our favorite. Who we use and what we do we aren’t going to say, but it’s delicious and spectacular.

What makes our soft serve better than other people’s is the butter fat content our dairy has. At 10 percent you can say that it’s real ice cream. Soft serve generally doesn’t have that high of a butter fat content.

What does your menu look like?
We only do vanilla, but then we mix it with things. Because if you look at different flavors, the base to pretty much everything is vanilla. If you want a chocolate milkshake, you don’t use chocolate ice cream — you use vanilla with chocolate mixed in… What we make is the creamiest, richest vanilla ice cream you’ll ever have. It’s so good.

We also have a [machine] so we can make milkshakes with the old style metal cups. Is that cool or what? We make sundaes: butterscotch, hot fudge, anything you want. We’ll do floats and dip cones too — we’ll put nuts and sprinkles, any kind you want with whipped cream and cherries.

How’s business so far?
We took off so fast — a huge boom in just two weeks. We know that we’ve got something here; it’s the combination of a great product and the presentation. It’s the show. That’s what drives us.

This is all so new though, we’re trying to figure things out, especially prices. We’re just starting. We don’t even have our business cards done, and our website is still being built. There’s so much work to be done.

Going to events has been interesting. In most events, [the food truck] has to pay to be there, but people are paying us to show up.

We went to a bar last Sunday, because a friend who runs it had asked us to set up in their parking lot. A lady came up with her husband and said, “You’ve got to be at my party; we’re going to have 500 guests. We’ll give you $1,000 just to show up.”

What is the future looking like for ‘Made in the Shade’?
We want to have multiple trucks. Valerie has two grandkids in college, and they’ll be coming home in the summer. That’s when the trucks will really run so it might be a good summer job for them.

We really just want to build it up. We’ve been open for just a few weeks and we could already use another truck — we could use four right now, there’s that much work.

More information about “Made in the Shade” can be found on the company’s Facebook Page. Booking requests can also be made by calling (800) 300-4107.

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