Pick almost any Saturday in the last seven years and odds are Sahuarita residents heard the familiar sound of Christopher Brown's ice cream truck driving around the neighborhood.
Brown gets into his truck, leaves his Midvale Park home in Tucson and makes the drive south to Sahuarita. To the delight of ice cream fans young and old, he usually puts in nine hours a day, starting about 11 a.m.
He loves it and he says his customers do too. Angel Face Ice Cream is taken from the nickname of his 10-year-old daughter, Christiana
Brown estimates he has about 2,500 regular customers in Green Valley, Sahuarita, Vail and the Star Valley area of Tucson. He works four days a week.
Driving an ice cream truck was supposed to be temporary, something he did until he found something else to do. But he fell in love with the business.
Before starting Angel Face Ice Cream, Brown was waiting tables at Montana Avenue in Tucson. He quit when he injured himself skateboarding, and the restaurant has since closed.
“I was at a skate park down in Sierra Vista, showing off for a bunch of kids, and I crashed and messed up my knee and I couldn’t wait tables. It was hard for me to walk,” he said.
That’s when a friend told him about an ice cream truck he had in Chicago.
“Long story short, we ended up flying out to Chicago, getting the ice cream truck, driving it back here,” Brown said.
Brown's current truck, which he started using this year, gets about seven mpg, and he spends about $300 a week on gas. He says that's not too bad considering the amount of ice cream he sells.
On the road
Brown's ice cream truck is a tight squeeze. During each stop, he quickly vacates the driver's seat and takes a place on a stool next to a large window where people line up to order. He tries to remember as many orders as he can before getting up and heading to the freezers in the back. He bends over slightly since the truck isn't large enough for him to stand up straight.
In the beginning, finding neighborhoods to sell his products wasn’t easy.
“I did start out in Tucson, but everywhere I went I would see other ice cream trucks,” Brown said. “Eventually, I would kind of get further out until I found a place where there were no other ice cream trucks.”
Nowadays, Brown has neighborhoods where he feels appreciated.
"We anticipate him coming every Saturday like clockwork," said customer Scott Williams. "He's friendly, the music is nice."
Heather Morgan is another Sahuarita customer who looks forward to Brown's visits.
“I remember having (an ice cream truck) when I was little and it was such a good experience and the kids love it; this is the Saturday highlight for them so we really like it,” Morgan said.
Even dogs have a reason to be happy when Brown rolls around the corner in his yellow truck.
“I sell these dog treats that I make, so I’ll have people coming out with their dog to give them a treat. I'll give them a free one just for bringing their dog out,” he said.
The dog treats, called PUPsicles, come in different sizes.
Over the years, Brown has steadily refined his offerings, stocking up on what sells and cutting out what doesn’t. He doesn’t have one item that’s more popular than the rest; everything sells, he said.
He has noticed, however, that Batman and Captain America popsicles are popular with boys, while the Hello Kitty and Powerpuff Girls popsicles are more popular with girls. He also sells Cheetos and Takis. He tends to sell more in the winter than in the summer.
The ice cream in Brown’s truck doesn’t stay in his freezers longer than two days because it sells so fast, he said.
Every two days he has to go out and buy a new case of product just to make sure he has everything he advertises on his truck is in stock. Everything Brown sells is prepackaged and he’ll buy from wholesale suppliers, like Big Boy Ice Cream in Tucson. He often sees other ice cream truck drivers in the store, shopping for product, too, and he just smiles and waves.
When Brown hands over the ice cream he always makes sure the label of the package is facing up. He wants to make sure his customers don't have any doubts about what they're getting, he said.
“I charge the least I can to still maintain my business, and if I didn’t sell as much as I do, I probably wouldn’t make enough to support my family, but it’s the volume, I sell a ton of ice cream,” Brown said.
On a recent Saturday evening in Sahuarita, there were times customers weren't sure what they wanted but Brown was patient and allowed them as much time as they needed. Many of Brown's younger patrons were excited and often climbed on the ledge of the truck just to get closer to the ice cream man.
Sometimes customers will ask Brown to drive by their neighborhoods more often but he sticks to a strict routine of only visiting each of his neighborhoods once a week. Brown worries he might upset people if he visits too often. Plus, infrequent visits makes his customers excited to see him, he said.
“I do this because I like it,” Brown said. “This is probably something I could keep doing until I retire.”