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Joe Patty of Arlington loves the ice cream biz. "My goal in this business is that I love children," he says. "I've always had a niche with children. They relate to me because I'm just a big kid."


'Big kid' went from cop to ice cream man

BUSINESS

By Larry Rea,
Special to Bartlett Appeal

January 9, 2005


"Believe me, this is the best job in the world. All day long, you are giving children ice cream. Besides Santa Claus, you are probably the second most important person."

Joe Patty

ice cream man


Lickety Split on road with two trucks, Merrymobile


Joe Patty admits he has always been partial to ice cream and, being a kid at heart, he relates well to children.

What a better combination, ice cream and kids, right?

So it was on a hot July day in 2002 that Patty had a decision to make.

One of those bell-clanging mobile ice cream vans was working its way through Patty's Arlington neighborhood. His girls, Kylie and Regan, heard the bell, saw the truck and, like most kids, ran to Daddy, begging for ice cream.

No way, Patty told them. He didn't like the worn-out look of the truck or its driver and wasn't sure what quality of ice cream he'd be buying.

"Not even on a cold day," he told them. "I told them, 'We've got ice cream inside.'"

That night, while lying in bed, Patty got to thinking, "There's got to be a better way to do that. There's got to be a cleaner way, a better way. Parents, like me, are often concerned about buying ice cream off those trucks."

The next day Patty started to research the mobile ice cream business. For four months he studied everything he could find on the subject. It was time to go into the mobile ice cream business.

Thus was born Arlington-based Lickety Split Ice Cream.

He bought his first truck in November 2003, a 1985 Chevrolet P-30 Step van truck. Not just any truck, mind you, but a Miller Lite Icehouse beer truck.

"I went to Virginia to get it," he said. "It was the right price and it was in great condition."

After making the 900-mile trek back to Shelby County in the truck, Patty started stripping it down, gutting it inside and out. He repainted it and opened with his first load of ice cream on March 1.

"We immediately started doing birthday parties, church events, parades, things like that." he said. "Nobody really knew what we were. They'd never seen an ice cream truck that looked like that."

Lickety Split has two trucks and a Merrymobile.

That's right -- he's got one of the original Merrymobiles, which for many Memphians in the 1960s was their only outlet to get curb-side ice cream from a mobile vendor that rolled through the city's neighborhoods, powered by a one-cylinder engine and all decked out with the look of a red, white and blue merry-go-round (thus the name Merrymobile). At one time, there were more than 80 of these funny-looking contraptions.

"I have one of those original -- it's actually No. 43 -- Merrymobiles," Patty said. "I've completely restored it."

Patty said he found his Merrymobile in Tipton County.

"I got hold of the guy (who owned it) and at first he wouldn't come down on the price," Patty said. "We talked for a year and he finally came down on the price and I bought it in August."

The restoration effort on the Merrymobile is almost completed.

"It had no transmission or engine," Patty said. "We basically had to take a '94 Club golf cart, completely reworked it and stuck it up under there (the Merrymobile)."

Patty, 35, has worked 13 years for the Memphis Police Department as a crime tracking officer for the Northeast Precinct, working the 6 a.m.-2 p.m. shift. He and his wife, Amy, who have been married 10 years, live in Arlington. Kylie goes to Arlington Elementary, where when her dad shows up the other kids instantly know that the ice cream man is in the house.

"All the kids recognize me as the ice cream man," Patty said. "They'll be whispering, 'Hey there's Kylie's dad. He's the ice cream man.'"

When Patty's ice cream isn't working a special event, it's working the streets. Most of their business, he said, is outside the I-240 loop. He said they try to cater toward more of the events than street sales. It's just better profit margin, he said. Don't expect to hear bells being rung when one of Patty's trucks drive through your neighbor.

"We actually use music," he said. "And we use newer music. Like the Wiggles and stuff like that."

Lickety Split carries Blue Bell ice cream and Good Humor products, both of which are obtained locally.

So, does the man who owns Lickety Split Ice Cream like what he sells?

"Oh, yes," Patty said without hesitation. "I grew up in Jackson, Tenn., and I used to buy ice cream off those trucks that came around in the neighborhood."

As far as the company's name, Patty admits it isn't original. There are other ice cream companies using the same name throughout the United States.

None, as far as he knows, is a franchise.

"We're not a franchise," he said. "This is just like having Joe's Lawn Service. There are a lot of Joes out there, too. I didn't want to use Joe's Treats or something like that. I wanted something catchy. Somebody sent me a picture of a truck one time that had that name on it. I liked the name. There are a couple of ice cream parlors that are called that. There's a Lickety Split Transport here in town. There's an 18-wheeler company that I saw going down the road."

If you think the ice cream business is less stress than police work, forget it.

It's twice the stress, Patty said with a laugh.

"Now, we've got two trucks and the Merrymobile and now we're looking at buying a concession trailer," he said. "We're going to branch out. I want people in Memphis, when they think of ice cream, they think of Lickety Split, whether they're having a birthday party or a social event of whatever. My goal in this business is that I love children. I've always had a niche with children. They relate to me because I'm just a big kid. I want people to see that the ice cream man can be different. You don't have to be scared of them."

Patty's employees wear polo shirts with name tags and the company's logo on them. Most of his drivers are off-duty policemen. If not, they're 35-40-year-old family men.

Though street sales have been disappointing, Patty said the business is growing.

For a birthday party, Lickety Split will show up with the big ice cream truck, which will handle about 15 kids. The kids get stickers, balloons, tour of the truck and get to pick their own ice cream right out of the freezer. The cost is $75 and that includes ice cream for 25 people.

"Believe me, this is the best job in the world," Patty said. "All day long, you are giving children ice cream. Besides Santa Claus, you are probably the second most important person. The kids love it. You know how it feels when you get something you like. It's great. We get that every day."

Patty's business slogan is: "I pay the bills with the ice cream, but I work for smiles."

For additional information call 867-9353 or check out the business's Web page at www.licketyspliticecream.net.

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