July 29, 2001


The Ice Cream Man Returns



By Joshua Kors


St. George, UT The way children come flooding out of their houses to greet David Larsen, you'd think the 22 year old was a superhero.

He isn't, of course. Larsen is no more capable of leaping tall buildings than he is of running at light-speed.

But he does give out ice cream. And to the children of St. George, that one fact alone has made him a superhero of sorts. Every day Larsen watches young boys sprinting towards his truck
out the door, down the steps, across the lawn, barefoot in their haste. Little girls line up along the sidewalk, mesmerized by the music, wide-eyed with wonder.

Larsen has come to be known in these parts as "The Ice Cream Man." Merely his arrival on these streets has become an event.

"They're always really excited to see me," said Larsen of the children he serves. "They're like, 'The ice cream man! The ice cream man!' It makes their day."

Larsen's appearance on the streets of St. George is a recent phenomenon, the result of a new business venture by Don Gansen. Gansen owns Dad's Ice Cream company and employs ice cream man Larsen.  His hope is that Larsen can make in-roads into the St. George dessert market so that his one-truck operation can expand for him here the same way that it grew for him up north, in Dad's Ice Cream's home base, Salt Lake City.

"I remember the day we started (Dad's Ice Cream)," Gansen said. "It was so hot and my son said, 'Dad, I wish there was an ice cream truck here like there was in Colorado," where the Gansens had lived before. "So I said, 'Well, why don't we start one?'"

Gansen says he borrowed a friend's trailer and marched down to the dairy. "At that time I had 20, 25 bucks to my name
I used it to by fudgsicles," he said.

From humble beginnings Gansen's business did succeed. After he had established Dad's in Salt Lake City, he began looking for someone to carry the company south. Eventually he found his man: his uncle, John LaGant. LaGant now runs the St. George branch of Dad's, along with his wife, Renee. Their St. George operation is only one month old, but already, says Renee, the couple has learned that the key to business is an equal passion for ice cream and children.

"The little kids are so much fun to watch," she said. "They skip and they jump when they hear the truck coming. A lot of them get so excited, they come running out barefoot. We've started laying out a carpet," LaGant said, to protect the children's feet from the hot pavement.

If the testimony of LaGant's customers is any indication, the royal treatment is working.

Colton Parker, 7, buys from the ice cream man "a lot." He reasons that everyone should appreciate Dad's ice cream truck
and ice cream man Larsen, especially because they bring gumballs, "the baseball one with the gumball in the center."

Concluded Parker of Larsen, "He's nice and I like him because he gives me ice cream."

It's a sentiment each of Larsen's customers seems to embrace.

Shane Turpin, 34, works as a service manager and frequents Larsen's portable dairy palace. He calls his appreciation of the ice cream truck "almost robotic." "It's a thing etched in your head from childhood," Turpin said. "You hear the ice cream truck; you want ice cream."

Turpin's appreciation for Larsen himself soars almost as high. "He comes into your neighborhood and takes care of you," said Larsen. "It's the chosen few that come through here and make little kids
and big kids happy."

That kind of customer response is the real reward of the business, says Richard St. John, who started up Dixie's other ice cream truck company in May. Fun Cindrome, like Dad's Ice Cream, has been making daily runs this summer, straying as far as Ivins and Gunlock. Three days a week St. John takes his two children with him
Nicholas, 10, and Shayla, 8 -- both of whom help serve the ice cream and count the change.

A man can make money in any business, St. John says, but the joy he sees in his kids' eyes and in the eyes of his young customers
that can't be quantified in dollars.

"Once they get that ice cream in their hand, they're overwhelmed," St. John said. "They walk away and you see them. They're smiling and waving, saying, 'Thank you, ice cream man.' Any time I can put a smile on a child's face, you know, it's very special."

St. John, like Gansen, had been an entrepreneur before his current ice cream truck venture. He started a trendy retail store, All That's Cool, where he sold odds and ends like Billy Bass, the singing fish. St. John had also prepared a portable massager store, set to open in Palm Springs in September. Then he came across a Reader's Digest article that trumpeted Utah as one of the largest consumers of dairy products.

To the businessman, it was like a revelation. He figured that with its profusion of children and a population that generally abstained from caffeine, Utah was the perfect location for ice cream truck. "As you can see, too," St. John said, patting his belly, "I was already a fan of ice cream myself."

In the months that he has served as Fun Cindrome's president and ice cream man, St. John says he has yet to tire of ice cream truck-driving life's little drudgeries, like listening to "that song" over and over. The song can be switched, counters St. John
his truck has three alternatives -- and besides, he says, it's the excitement the kids show that keeps him going.

Said ice cream man Larsen, "The way they react, seems like I'm always a friend in the neighborhood."