How do you start an ice cream truck? It has four wheels and can sell ice cream anywhere a road will let it, but what does it take to start an ice cream truck? How do you even begin to build an ice cream truck? In this post, I am going to be teaching you everything you need to know about starting an ice cream truck. In 2018, I launched and built my own ice cream truck from scratch (I even draw my own plans for it), so I understand everything you need to know to get an ice cream truck going.
Now, it is possible to rent an ice cream truck to use on a monthly basis, but in this post, I want to specifically focus on setting up and launching your own ice cream truck.
How To Start An Ice Cream Truck – The Steps Involved
Starting an ice cream truck involves the following steps:
- Business Plan
- Legal Entity
- Buy Truck
- Draw Up Plans
- Hire Contractor
- Health Department Inspection
- Mechanical Check
- Buy Supplies & Utensils
- Buy Ice Cream & Toppings
Before I go into the details of starting an ice cream truck, let’s look at why you may want to start an ice cream truck.
Why You May Want To Start An Ice Cream Truck
How Profitable Is An Ice Cream Truck?
An ice cream truck can make net profit margins of 10%-20% (usually a five-figure annual sum). This will be the case if it focuses on building up at least one regular street vending spot as well as catering at private events and serving at public events.
The most profitable sales for an ice cream truck will come from private catering events – corporate events, private parties, and weddings. It is possible for a successful ice cream truck to recoup start-up costs within 3 years.
If you want to read more about how profitable an ice cream truck can be you can check out my dedicated post on the topic here: How Profitable Is An Ice Cream Truck.
The Steps Involved in Starting An Ice Cream Truck
Let’s now go through all the different steps required to start an ice cream truck.
1. Write an Ice Cream Truck Business Plan
The first thing that should be done when starting an ice cream truck is writing an ice cream truck business plan. In this business plan you will establish if you will be starting one of the following types of ice cream truck:
- Soft serve ice cream truck (usually the most expensive and complicated option);
- Scooping ice cream truck; or
- Pre-packaged ice cream truck (usually the cheapest and easiest route).
The type of ice cream truck you want to start will very much influence the type and size of truck you will need, the type of equipment you need, as well as the cost of setting up the truck.
You can read more about how to write an ice cream business plan here – Everything You Need To Know About Writing An Ice Cream Business Plan.
How Are You Going To Make Money?
No matter what type of ice cream truck you plan on starting you need a plan on how to make money.
Do you have one or more street vending spots you plan on selling at? Or are you going to focus on private catering events (corporate, parties, etc.)? Or is your main strategy attending big public events? Do you have a profitable ice cream truck route planned out? Or a combination of all the above? This will form an essential part of your business plan, and business generally.
2. Set Up Legal Entity For Ice Cream Truck
Before you purchase a truck, you will want to speak with your accountant about the legal entity you want your truck to form, and the requirements to set up the legal entity. Alternatively, you may not want to set up a legal entity at all. Either way, this is something to speak to your accountant and lawyer about if you are not familiar with legal entities.
If you would like to read more about ice cream business accounting generally you can here – Ice Cream Shop Accounting – Everything You Need To Know.
3. Secure Financing For Ice Cream Truck
Before buying a truck, you will need to establish how you will pay for the truck and build-out. This will raise some of the following common questions:
How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, it will depend on the type of ice cream truck you want to start. It can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $100,000 to start an ice cream truck. I have specified the different costs and types of ice cream trucks in the table below.
|Type of Ice Cream Truck
|$ Cost To Start
|Pre-packaged Ice Cream Truck
|$10,000 – $20,000
|Scooping Ice Cream Truck
|$25,000 – $60,000
|Soft Serve Ice Cream Truck
|$40,000 – $100,000
Whether you buy a new truck and build it from scratch or buy a truck that is fully or partially built out will also affect your startup costs. You can read more about the startup costs involved in starting an ice cream truck here – How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck?
How To Finance An Ice Cream Truck?
There are four main ways to finance an ice cream truck:
Most ice cream trucks are self-funded, especially given the lower start-up costs. This is where you will use your own funds to launch and build the truck.
It is possible to get a small bank business loan to start an ice cream truck. But banks don’t tend to like to give financing for a truck as much as they do for a bricks-and-mortar store. If you are adding a truck to an existing ice cream business, it will be easier to get bank financing as you will already have proof of concept as well as financials to show them.
if you are buying a new truck, it may also be possible to get financing from the auto company. Furthermore, your truck build out contractor may offer financing options – it is always worth asking.
There are various types of crowdfunding. The most common type is where rewards are given to people in return for pledges (for example, discounted ice cream for a period, merch gear, or special offers). I partially launched my first ice cream truck with a crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding can be particularly hard. However, setting partial or smaller amounts for the crowdfunding (i.e. a few thousand dollars) can be a great way to get some extra cash for your truck and build up a following.
4. Buy A Truck
You have written your business plan, set up the legal entity, and secured the money to set the truck up. Congrats. Now it is time to buy the truck!
This begs the question…
Can I Convert Any Van or Box Truck into An Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, any kind of truck can be built out into an ice cream truck. The most important factor is if there is enough room and headroom for the truck to be built out in accordance with the local health department’s requirements for an ice cream truck.
What Kind of Trucks Are Used For Ice Cream Trucks?
As a general rule, converted step vans tend to work best as ice cream trucks. Step Vans such as Chevy, Ford, Grumman Olson, and GMCs brands work best.
What truck did I use as my ice cream truck?
I bought a 1990 P30 Chevy Step Van. It was previously used as a soft serve truck, but it hadn’t been used in years. Consequently, it provided all the basic requirements needed for an ice cream truck. it just needed some maintenance, updates, and repairs.
There are a few ways you can buy a truck.
- Option A: Buy a brand-new truck and get it built out from scratch (this is the most expensive route).
- Option B: Buy a secondhand non-food truck (think an old UPS van) and get it built out from scratch.
- Option C: Buy a secondhand ice cream truck that already has the main Health Department requirements and then get any remaining changes done (MOST COST EFFECTIVE).
- Options D: Buy a second-hand ice cream truck that is already permitted in the City and County you want to operate in and just apply for a change of ownership (EASIEST ROUTE).
For the purposes of this post, I will assume you have gone for option B or C. If you go for options A or D some, but not all, of the below steps, will apply to you. If you would like to read more about these routes you can here – How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck?
How To Find an Ice Cream Truck to Buy?
I found my truck on Craigslist – it was a former ice cream truck that had a lot of the health department requirements already. This included a three-compartment sink and a handwash sink. However, it still needed work to get it health department approved.
Understand Your Local Health Department Rules
When looking at trucks, my single biggest piece of advice is to become SUPER knowledgeable about your local health department’s rules for ice cream trucks. I have heard many stories of people buying a truck from out of state only to discover that there is no way of making it health department compliant in their home State. Usually, this is because there isn’t enough room for all the sinks and specific dimensions required.
Learn everything about your local health department rules – every measurement and sink compartment requirement. After viewing and looking around our truck for the first time we went into our health department in person to show them a rough plan of what we were planning for the truck. This way we could check that we weren’t missing anything BEFORE we put an offer in on the truck.
Viewing Potential Trucks
When looking at trucks make sure to come prepared with all your questions, come with a tape measure to check sinks, surfaces, etc. You want to make sure the health department requirements can definitely be accommodated for in the truck you buy.
Obviously, try to haggle on price – most sellers on sites such as Craigslist and OfferUp know they won’t get the asking price. Also, it is advisable to take a mechanic with you so you can make sure there are no big mechanical issues. We made this mistake and the truck we ended up buying needed over $5k in mechanical repairs after we bought it.
You can use any big mechanical costs to try to negotiate down the price.
Also, make sure to check with the owner (and maybe the DMV) that everything is paid up to date at the DMV. After purchasing the truck, we went to the DMV to register it and found out that there were over $1k in back fees due. All of it was the responsibility of the new owner – us.
5. Draw Up Ice Cream Truck Plans
Once you have bought your truck you will need your plans drawn up to submit to your local health department for approval. There are two ways of doing this – you can hire a company to do it for you. Or you can draw up the plans yourself.
I opted for the latter option and used a simple and cheap CAD program online. There are a whole host of free CAD software programs you can use online – just Google “free CAD Software“. I understood the ins and outs of our health department requirements which massively helped me do it myself. Note your truck build-out contractor may offer this service at an extra cost.
Once drawn up and printed out submit these plans to the health department for plan check. There may be some back and forthing with the health department. Our first set of plans submitted were not approved. But they told us what needed to be changed, we updated the plans and had a meeting with the health department to talk them through everything, and then they were approved.
6. Hire a Food Truck Contractor to Build Out Your Ice Cream Truck
Once you have approval from your health department for your plans you will want to hire a food truck builder to carry out the work required by the health department. Or alternatively, if you do not want to put the plans together yourself you can hire your builder and get them to put the plans together for you.
Make sure to get referrals and get a quote in writing detailing everything they will carry out for the price as well as the timeline for getting it done. I would recommend getting a few quotes before deciding on one.
7. Buy Ice Cream Truck Equipment
Once you have hired your contractor you will need to start ordering all the equipment you need for the truck. Your contractor will need a lot of this equipment quickly. So, if you want your truck to be built on time be organized and have all the equipment ready to go.
Main Pieces of Equipment Needed
As a general rule, the main equipment needed for an ice cream truck is:
- Fridge (if soft serve mix needs to be stored chilled or if offering chilled toppings)
- Soft serve machines (if selling soft serve)
- Water pump and heater
- Point of sale system
The exact equipment required for an ice cream truck will depend on what kind of ice cream truck it is (soft serve scooping or pre-packaged ice cream only), as well as the health department requirements of your local County. There will also be miscellaneous bits of equipment you will have to buy.
For example, the driver’s seat in our truck was so beat up we bought a new one for our contractor to fit, as well as a passenger seat to be fitted as we wanted to be able to have two team members at once on the truck while moving.
You can read more about the equipment required to start an ice cream truck here – What Equipment Is Needed For An Ice Cream Truck. In this post, I go through all the above pieces of equipment required to start an ice cream truck in detail.
If you would also like to read more about which generator to buy for your ice cream truck, you can here – How To Pick A Generator For Your Ice Cream Truck.
8. Get your Ice Cream Truck Wrapped
You will need to plan how the outside of your truck will look. Will you get it painted or wrapped? What design do you want for it? Do you want the outside of your truck to convey any message to customers?
I would personally recommend a colorful wrap. You want your truck as colorful as possible to catch people’s eyes and wraps last longer and look better and more professional than paint.
As a general rule, a good truck wrap will last around 3-5 years on a truck and cost around $2,000 to $5,000.
9. Ice Cream Truck Licenses
The licenses you will need to open and run your ice cream truck will depend on where you are starting your truck and local rules. Let’s start with the most important licenses:
Do I Need A Food Hygiene Certificate To Sell Ice Cream?
As a general rule, you will need to get health department approval and a permit to sell ice cream from an ice cream truck. This will involve your truck going through a plan check process with your local health department. Once the health permit is approved it will need to be renewed annually for a fee.
Additional Licenses and Permits
What other licenses may be required to start an ice cream truck? In addition to a health permit you will need –
You will need to register the truck with the DMV as soon as you buy it. The registration for the truck will then need to be renewed annually. Depending on your State SMOG may also be required to renew registration.
You may need a smog certificate depending on your state. A valid smog certificate should have been handed over by the truck seller and will be required to register the truck in your name in some States.
Fictitious Business Name License
If your truck will have a brand name on it, then you will need to register your fictitious business name. Again, this requirement may vary depending on your State.
A seller’s permit is in relation to sales tax. Depending on your State ice cream may be subject to sales tax. In the State of California, take-out ice cream by itself is generally not taxable. However, if you offer any hot sauce toppings (e.g., hot fudge or caramel sauce) on any ice cream that may make it taxable. This is something to speak to your accountant about.
In a lot of cities, you will need a separate business license for that city to sell ice cream. This is even if it is just for a one-time event. During my time running an ice cream truck, I had to apply for and pay for many business licenses for various cities in the county I was operating in.
It can get complicated.
Ice Cream Truck Rules and Regulations
The rules and regulations around ice cream trucks will depend on the area you want to start your ice cream truck. The rules around ice cream trucks can be very strict – involving limits from selling within a certain proximity to schools as well as criminal background checks on the driver in some areas.
10. Ice Cream Truck Insurance
As a general rule, some of the insurance requirements for an ice cream truck include general liability insurance, auto insurance (I would definitely recommend fully comp) as well as employee liability if you are planning on having employees.
You may well have to get at least your auto insurance in place earlier in the process if you must take your truck out on the road at any point (e.g., to take to the contractor or health department).
Certificate of Insurance
If you do any type of event or catering the host may request to have a certificate of insurance and to be named on the certificate of insurance. You want to make sure that your insurance provider is able to: (1) quickly turn these around for you; (2) does not have a limit on how many you can get per month; and (3) does not charge you extra for doing these.
11. Data Plan for Ice Cream Truck
You will need to think about getting a data plan on your truck so you can take card payments via your point of sale. We used US Mobile for data on our truck and were happy with it. The best part of US Mobile is that it lets you just select a data plan – so you only pay for what you need (i.e. just data). You can also top up the data during the month as you need it.
12. Health Department Inspection
The last step for most trucks will be the final health department plan check physical inspection. During this process, you will take the truck to your health department where they will inspect and give final approval to the truck.
13. Mechanical Check
At some point in the process, it is advisable to take the truck to a mechanic for a once-over. We took ours to the mechanic after it had been built out and after having obtained approval from the health department.
However, you may choose to take your truck to the mechanic earlier in the process.
14. Buy Utensils, Supplies, and Cleaning Products For Your Ice Cream Truck
Utensils And Supplies for an Ice Cream Truck
The following utensils and supplies are usually required for an ice cream truck:
|Utensils For Ice Cream Truck
|Cleaning Supplies For Ice Cream Truck
|Dry Supplies For Ice Cream Truck
|Ice cream buckets
|Ice cream scoopers
|Cleaning supplies (sanitizer, washing up liquid & bleach)
You can read more about the kind of utensils and supplies you may need here – What Equipment Is Needed For An Ice Cream Truck.
15. Buy Ice Cream and Toppings To Sell On Your Ice Cream Truck
What Should An Ice Cream Truck Sell?
It goes without saying that the single most important thing for an ice cream truck to sell is ice cream. An ice cream truck should also have at least a small selection of toppings to add to the ice cream at an additional cost. Our ice cream truck just offered a small selection of dry toppings such as nuts, sprinkles, Oreos, peanut butter, and granola.
An ice cream truck can also offer optional items such as drinks, cones, and waffles cups. Our truck did not offer drinks of waffles cones – just a small selection of ice cream and dry toppings.
What Flavors Should An Ice Cream Truck Offer
As a general rule, all ice cream shops should offer the four basic ice cream flavors of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mint choc chip. It is a good idea to also offer a few of the more “indulgent” American classic flavors such as cookies & cream, butter pecan, and peanut butter.
Finally, offer a few unusual flavors which you rotate every week or so to add some variety to your ice cream shop menu. It is advisable to stick to dry toppings only on an ice cream truck due to more limited space to store chilled toppings.
|Ice Cream Flavors For An Ice Cream Truck to Sell
|Dry Toppings For An Ice Cream Truck To Sell
|Mint Choc Chip
|Cookies & Cream
|Sprinkles (rainbow and/or chocolate)
|Some Unique & Unusual Flavors
|Peanut butter cups
Yes, you can add other things like chips onto your menu but honestly just stick to ice cream. People come over to an ice cream shop for…you guessed it, ice cream. Adding other items complicates the customer message. Also, additional product offerings could complicate your health department requirements as well as sales tax.
How Much Does It Cost To Stock An Ice Cream Truck?
As a general rule, an ice cream truck can be stocked for as little as $1000. $1000 will be enough to buy enough ice cream, toppings, napkins, cups, lids, bags, spoons, and sample cups for an ice cream truck to start trading.
How To Start an Ice Cream Truck – The Final Lick
How to start an ice cream truck. Starting an ice cream truck can feel like a complicated process, but in comparison to opening an ice cream store, it is much easier. The three biggest challenges to opening an ice cream truck are: (1) finding a truck; (2) the cost of building out the truck; and (3) complying with all your local health department’s plan check rules. Understanding your local health department rules will go a long way to helping make this process as quick and efficient as possible. You want to become an expert on food permit requirements for trucks.
One personal recommendation when it comes to building a food truck is to find a previously used food truck. One that fits most of the health department requirements. You can then update and upgrade the truck as necessary. Yes, the truck may be older and may need some mechanical repairs, but the cost-saving compared to buying and converting a brand-new truck makes it worth it.
Time To Learn Some More
Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.
- What Are the Challenges In An Ice Cream Business
- How Do I Start My Own Ice Cream Business
- Ice Cream Shop Profits – How To Run A Profitable Ice Cream Shop
- How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck
- How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Shop
- Ice Cream Shop Accounting – Everything You Need To Know
- Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It
- What Are the Different Types of Frozen Desserts?
- Is Vegan Ice Cream Profitable
- What Equipment Do I Need For My Ice Cream Truck
- How To Pick A Generator For Your Ice Cream Truck
- How Profitable Is An Ice Cream Truck?
- Everything You Need To Know About Working In An Ice Cream Shop
- Everything You Need to Know About Writing an Ice Cream Business Plan
- Everything You Need To Know About Rolled Ice Cream
- Everything You Need To Know About Soft Serve Ice Cream
- Vegan “Ice Cream”
- Everything You Need To Know About Batch Freezers
- What Equipment Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop
- What Supplies Do You Need For An Ice Cream Shop
- What Is The Best Location For An Ice Cream Shop
- How To Open An Ice Cream Shop
- Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money in the Winter
- How To Make An Ice Cream Shop Stand Out
- How Do You Become An Ice Cream Distributor
- Everything You Need To Know About Ice Cream Delivery Apps
- Everything You Need To Know About Gluten-Free Ice Cream and Toppings
- What is the Mark-Up on Ice Cream?
- What Scoopers Do Ice Cream Shops Use?
- What Are the Best Toppings and Sauces for Ice Cream?