Scoopin’ in Style: Millie’s Ice Cream Truck
Updated: May 7, 2020
Known for their creative scoops made from farm-fresh ingredients, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream is a beloved ice cream shop enjoyed by Pittsburghers of all ages.
Millie’s Ice Cream was founded by Chad and Lauren Townsend in 2014. Hailing from Westmoreland County, Chad began his illustrious foray into the culinary world as most chefs do—washing dishes. Before opening Millie’s, Chad was the executive chef at Salt of the Earth and also worked at Eleven and the two Michelin-starred Yoann Conte. As the resident Happiness Curator, Lauren handles everything from finances to branding and building the entire customer experience at Millie’s.
With over 15,000 Instagram followers at the time of this article, Millie’s Ice Cream currently has two store locations in Shadyside and Market Square, along with a commercial manufacturing facility and tasting room in Homestead. But the self-proclaimed “baby” of the family is definitely their ice cream truck, Van Morrison.
Shortly after launching Millie’s second store location, Chad was inspired by the idea of getting an ice cream truck. An ice cream truck would allow Millie’s to reach more neighborhoods across Pittsburgh, as well as meet their customers and ice cream enthusiasts directly where they work, live, and play.
Around this time, Chad was connected to Honeycomb Credit through the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, and just a few days before their scheduled meeting, Chad stumbled upon an online listing for a 1974 Morrison Bedford ice cream van for sale. Built in the U.K., the van evoked vintage European charm and childhood whimsy.
It was the perfect vehicle for what the team was envisioning.
“We wanted something that people could see in action and interact with,” says Chad.
But the truck was a fixer-upper, and it would need renovations before it could hit the road: some repainting to match Millie’s signature pink-and-white brand and a few mechanical upgrades to become fully road-worthy. Buying the truck would also make a dent in Millie’s cash reserves.
Meeting with the Honeycomb team helped Chad connect the dots—running a Honeycomb campaign would not only help them raise funds, but also build excitement around the truck even before its launch.
The One and Cone-ly Truck
The team announced their new venture, Millie’s Ice Cream Truck, and launched their Honeycomb campaign, opening up the opportunity for their customers, friends, and community to invest in the project.
The moment the first investment came in, Chad knew that they were on to something.
“It was great, it was some validation. You have a bit of trepidation and fear of what happens if nobody invests,” Chad shares. “It’s a bit of a natural thing. I still wake up a lot of days and think, is today the day where nobody shows up at Shadyside?”
By the end of their campaign, Millie’s Ice Cream had raised $49,700 from 40 community investors to buy their ice cream truck.
Chad was impressed by the ease and expediency of the crowdfinancing process with Honeycomb Credit.
“We have done some traditional financing and it’s a total process,” explains Chad. “With Honeycomb, it was very quick, very easy, very painless.”
Sunny with a Chance of Sprinkles
Since launching, Millie’s Ice Cream Truck has been a huge hit across Pittsburgh, serving sweet scoops to customers at a variety of local community events, such as Light Up Night, Three Rivers Arts Festival, and Bloomfield Little Italy Days. The truck also makes frequent appearances at corporate events, weddings, parties, food truck rallies, and pop-up events.
A delightful benefit of running their Honeycomb campaign has been meeting and building personal relationships with their investors.
“I would say at least once a week, we have someone who comes up to us and says, ‘Oh hey, I’d like to meet you, I invested through Honeycomb.’ We’ve made some friends. It’s been really interesting, it’s definitely shown to be a community and network.”
Many of these investors have also become staunch supporters of Millie’s as a whole.
“People seem to have a lot of pride in it. It’s neat that way, because they can make a few bucks and feel like they’re participating in our business. And so, they get excited and now they’re shop regulars in addition to truck regulars.”
Working in the ice cream truck has also been a blast for the entire Millie’s staff.
“The truck events are all just generally really fun. It's fun to be outside, especially when it's nice and sunny. You're in the truck, and everybody's eating ice cream.”
For Chad, participating in the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival at Kennywood Park with their ice cream truck has been a particularly fond memory.
“Being able to drive our ice cream truck around Kennywood Park was pretty neat, especially since I’ve been going there since I was a tiny kid. It’s also a pretty diverse crowd, reaching folks who largely aren’t regulars at our ice cream shops. It’s definitely an event that we’re looking forward to doing again.”
How to Deal with a Rocky Road
Running a successful business, especially one that’s loved by the community like Millie’s, requires doing all the right things—and staying strong in the face of unpredictability.
“A guy once told me a quote that sticks in my head every day: ‘If you want to stay in business, you have to be in business.’ You’re going to lose money on some days, you’re going to lose staff on some days. You’re going to have all of these problems, but you’re going to wake up the next day and try to win again. I think that’s really the most important thing.”
For fellow business owners considering taking on a big growth project, Chad believes that getting the business to a financially healthy state is the first step.
“Financially, you need to be in the right place to do it. A lot of places want to grow to increase the financials, and I think you need to have the financials in the right position before you grow,” says Chad. “But a lot of it is gut feeling. Are we ready to do it? Because it's a lot. Operating just one store and a separate manufacturing facility is already difficult, and now we have two stores and a truck.”
Chad also credits his dynamic team for holding down the fort and embodying the spirit of Millie’s Ice Cream every day.
“We have 40, 50 people who are all over the place, every single day. We have great staff and managers who make it a lot easier to run the business. Our staff is so wonderful, and they make up for all of my shortcomings by being great ambassadors to our brand.”
The Inside Scoop
So what’s the next big scoop at Millie’s Ice Cream? They’re planning to open up their third store location this year...in Lawrenceville!
Millie’s Ice Cream is also in the process of becoming a certified B-Corporation, where a portion of their sales will be donated to charity. Millie’s will be providing employees with the opportunity to have volunteer time off for doing community service each quarter.
With their delicious flavors, local farm-fresh ingredients, and socially responsible squad, what’s not to love about Millie’s Ice Cream?
Got a sweet tooth for another story? Check out this story about My Goodness, a locally-minded neighborhood market in Regent Square that also sells Millie’s Ice Cream in their shop!