AM New York A Day with the Sultan of Soft Serve

AM New York


In the world of ice cream, Doug Quint is a rock star. The heavily tattooed man behind The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has a cult-like following (the business has more than 21,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 8,000 fans on Facebook), and people line up around the block to meet him (and to try his ice cream, too). Quint, a 39-year-old professional bassoonist runs the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck with his partner (in life and in business), Bryan Petroff. It started out two years ago as a fun idea for a summer job, but has become so popular that the two will also open the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop on Seventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, later this month.

“One of the reasons we wanted to have a store was to give people another way to get this ice cream — a lot of locals wouldn’t wait on this line,” Quint said. The truck’s big draw isn’t the ice cream — it’s standard vanilla and chocolate soft-serve — but the specialty concoctions. There’s the Salty Pimp, a cone of vanilla with sea salt and dulce de leche in a chocolate dip ($5), and the Monday Sundae — a waffle cone lined with Nutella, filled with ice cream and dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream ($6). Cones even come lined with spicy peanut butter.

Here’s just one day in the life of one unusual — and hardworking — ice cream man.

1. First stop: Truck depot.
Quint and Petroff own the Big Gay Ice Cream business, but not the truck. Quint heads to a truck depot in Hunts Point around 10 a.m., where he cleans and stocks the rental (which looks just like a regular Mister Softee-style truck) for about an hour and gets gas (about $100 for a tank). Quint buys most of his ingredients, such as the wasabi peas and curry powder he uses as toppings, at the Fairway in Harlem on weekends.

2. Cruising down Second Avenue.
Quint drives down Second Avenue from the Bronx to his Union Square location. It’s a bumpy ride, but he takes it in stride, waving back at many of the onlookers who wave at him.

3. Pit stop at the store.
On the afternoon we tagged along, Quint stopped at his soon-to-open store to pick up more Nutella. While there, he chatted with his partner and the store’s manager, Jake, who will be the face of the shop much the way Quint is the face of the truck. 

4. Holy lines!
As we pulled up to the northwest corner of Union Square, we could make out a line of about half a dozen people already formed. And by the time the truck officially opened for business 20 minutes later, the line was 30 deep.

5. A quick bite… and some Diet Coke.
Quint is slammed with customers from the moment he opens (around 2:30 p.m. every weekday) until closing (around 8:30 p.m.). He scarfed down a Pret-a-Manger tuna sandwich and some Diet Coke and was ready to open. “OK, everyone, be nice!” he called out to the growing line of people. “And don’t cut.”

6. Mr. Personality.
While he serves ice cream, Quint bops to music from his iPhone. A people person in the truest sense, he’s jovial and funny — and the customers eat it up. His infectious attitude seems to rub off on them, too. Can you imagine a line of 30 hungry people in New York with zero cutting or arguing? It happens here.

7. Yes, there are occupational hazards.
Interestingly, Quint has developed carpal tunnel syndrome from serving ice cream all day. He’s also constantly facing mechanical challenges — our original ride-along was rescheduled when the generator couldn’t keep up with the heat. The A/C tends to go off and on, and during the worst of the heatwave last month he couldn’t get the temperature below 100 degrees. Quint is also concerned that when the recent food-truck crackdown that has swept midtown heads downtown, he’ll face ticketing and orders to relocate. Despite all that, it’s clear the nature of the biz suits him well. Oh, and if you’re wondering whether Quint eats ice cream all day long, the answer is no.

And he’s usually too ice-creamed out to eat it at night.

Photo: Ryan Thatcher