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You’ll scream for Moo Moo’s Ice Cream

Solon couple supports local businesses with cool treats
Sheila Happel hands Iowa-made ice cream treats to Kamryn, Luke, John and Bryn Deike. Sheila and her husband Jason are the owners of Moo Moo’s Ice Cream, based in rural Solon.

SOLON– It’s a ritual of summertime in a city: somewhere, off in the distance, the faint tones of “The Entertainer” are heard. Closer, and closer the music gets. And then, the kids make the realization, “The Ice Cream Truck is coming!” The quick dash home follows, with frantic pleas to mom for money for the ice cream truck, while the music gets louder and louder. Panic ensues as it seems to take an eternity for mom to get her purse and dig out some spare change, or a dollar bill. Louder and louder the music gets as the coins or bills hit an outstretched hand, and then out door they go to meet the wonderful truck full of treats.
As they cool off from the summer heat and devour a frozen treat, the music fades off into the distance.
Until the next time.
Even for kids who didn’t grow up in the city, summertime and ice cream still go together. Sheila Happel grew up on a farm in North Dakota, but has happy memories of ice cream with her grandpa, a dairy farmer.
“Ice cream just makes people happy,” she said.
One happy memory from her childhood was her twin sister and her visiting grandpa and grandma, and having ice cream every time.
“My grandpa would have all three of us singing our hearts out, ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,’ and we’d be dancing around the kitchen, he’d be singing, and I just loved it. That’s one of my favorite memories.”
Her father, a grain farmer, would take the girls with him to check the crops. “Often, the field checking would end with a trip into town for ice cream. My Dad liked his ice cream, too. I wish he could see this.”
Sadly, he passed away in April 2018.
“He’d get a kick out of it,” she said. “He would’ve loved to see this.”
Cherished memories, and the happiness a frozen treat can bring, are among the reasons why she and her husband Jason founded Moo Moo’s Ice Cream, based in rural Solon. However, the idea wasn’t hers but his. And it took some persuasion and a long discussion.
Jason had driven an ice cream truck during his college days and brought up the idea.
“I wasn’t really excited about it at first,” Shelia said. “Then we went on a 10-to-12-hour drive for a fishing trip. And he really wanted to do it, and Tate (Jason’s son) really wanted to do it.”
She refined the idea by asking a “what-if” question about selling only Iowa-made ice cream products instead of the seemingly ubiquitous novelty treats. “Then, I would get excited about it,” she said. “Sponge Bob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sugary stuff on a stick just does not excite me.”
The discussions continued, she added, “And here we are today!”
The founding principle is to harken back to the traditional ice cream trucks, but with all Iowa-made products. Sheila explained ice cream trucks originally served their own products from their own dairies.
“Even though we’re not selling our own ice cream, we’re serving others’ small business ice cream.”
She noted they have some Blue Bunny Classics products, but is quick to point out Fred H. Wells, the founder of what eventually became Blue Bunny, started out in 1913 with a horse, wagon, and 15 cows before growing to being the world’s largest family-owned and managed ice cream producer in what has become the known as The Ice Cream Capital of the World, in Le Mars.
The Happels also sell products from Dan and Debbie’s Creamery, in Ely, which she noted is a farm-to-table operation with 150 dairy cows and their own creamery, as well as Thelma’s Handmade Ice Cream Sandwiches, from Des Moines. Thelma’s uses Anderson Erickson (AE) ice cream, which in addition to having a plant in Des Moines, supports dairy farmers across the state. Yotty’s Ice Cream Shop, in Kalona, is also a supplier, providing Moo Moo’s with an old-fashioned ice cream bar dating back to the 1940s known as the Kalona Bar. It, too, is made with AE vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate with graham cracker crumbles. There have been many ice cream shops over the years to make the Kalona Bar, but Yotty’s Ice Cream shop is the current producer.
For the four-legged kids, the trucks also carry Woofables gourmet dog treats, made in Coralville.
While Fred Wells started his empire with one wagon, the Happel’s purchased a fleet of five trucks from McGrath Fleet and Commercial last winter, and upon delivery sent them to Midwest Frame and Axle, in Iowa City, to have the service windows and freezers installed. Banacom Signs, in Hiawatha, was next for application of the graphics. A graphic designer at Banacom also took Sheila’s rough vision for a logo and refined it, as well as the distinctive look of the trucks. Interestingly, each truck has a name, such as “Millie Moo.”
“We wanted a look that was fun, and inviting, and clean, and looked safe. And that’s why we went with all-new trucks and equipment.”
RACOM, in Hiawatha, installed additional flashing safety lights, the Point of Sale equipment and inverters to provide electrical power.
“So that’s four more small businesses,” Happel said. “The whole thing has been about supporting local businesses.”
The trucks first took to the streets on March 16, a not particularly warm day, but much warmer than the brutal winter had provided.
“People were outside, they were like, ‘ice cream!’ it was so funny,” she said. “Just seeing people’s excitement, it’s so fun.”
As in her own case, love of ice cream and memories are generational with parents and grandparents often heard telling their kids about how the ice cream truck would come when they were little.
“They’re excited to see an ice cream truck again, and the kids get excited and start jumping up and down in their driveways, waving their arms. It’s pretty fun.”
In keeping with tradition, the trucks all have a vintage-looking music box, which plays the time-honored “ice cream truck music” as the rigs navigate their routes.
The trucks are deployed over a wide area with one in Iowa City, two in Cedar Rapids, one to North Liberty and Coralville, and one for Solon and surrounding towns including Ely, Swisher, Center Point, Urbana, Anamosa, Mount Vernon and Springville, as well as Hiawatha and Marion.
The Happels and their crew have been busy since the fleet hit the streets. “Everyday we’re getting phone calls and emails from businesses that want us to come for an employee appreciation or a summer picnic, pool parties, birthday parties, anniversaries, even weddings,” Sheila said. “We’ve done some big festivals, we’ll be at (North Liberty’s) Blues and BBQ, we did the Iowa City Arts Festival, the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and we had some smaller venues at the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival.”
Moo Moo’s is also the only ice cream vendor for the Iowa Speedway in Newton.
So why Moo Moo’s? The Happels’ family and friends all had suggestions of names, which generated a very long list, Sheila said. The list was narrowed to 10 or 15, which were voted on by neighbors, friends, and family; and whittled down to three.
“I took those to the Solon Learning Academy, and brought the kids ice cream, and they voted for Moo Moo’s Ice Cream,” she said. “It just kind of has a ring to it.”
Moo Moo’s drivers are thoroughly background-checked and trained before hitting the trails. Part of the training is to only drive two-to-three miles per hour in the residential areas, and to slow down even more, or stop, if kids are approaching.
“We train them to be the eyes for the kids,” Sheila said. “So as the driver you’re keeping your eye on them and making sure it’s a safe environment.” She said they are adamant about doing the background checks and training to provide community happiness in the safest way possible. “We want people to be excited about seeing our trucks, and that they’re quality, and trustworthy. They don’t have to fear about sending their children out to an ice cream truck.”
Moo Moo’s website is https://moomoosicecreamtruck.com/, and is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MooMoosIceCreamTruck/ in addition to Instagram and Twitter. To reserve a truck for a birthday party or other special event, contact Moo Moo’s Ice Cream Truck by email at MooMoosIceCreamTruck@gmail.com or call at 319-775-3003.
“We’re excited about how overwhelming the support has been from the community, and how we get to support other small businesses and dairy farmers,” Sheila noted. “Farming is near and dear to my heart. We know first hand what it takes to be successful as a farmer, so it’s neat to be able to support farmers with what we’re doing. We really enjoy knowing we’re supporting small businesses and farmers.”

PULL QUOTES
“Ice cream just makes people happy” – Sheila Happel, co-owner of Moo Moo’s Ice Cream Trucks.