Outdoor dining may have been a lifeline for many restaurants and food carts this summer. But as winter looms ahead, one question has been at the forefront of many Portlanders’ minds: what happens when it rains?
That question is especially pertinent for warm-weather businesses, like ice cream shops, many of which say they see a big drop in business during rainy weather. But New Zealand-style ice cream truck Zeds Real Fruit Ice Cream certainly hopes customers won’t let the drizzle put a damper on their ice cream plans. This year, the normally seasonal truck is braving its first winter in an effort to recoup its losses from the pandemic.
New Zealand real fruit ice cream, like what’s served at Zeds, is made by blending vanilla ice cream and a scoop of fruit in a special machine imported from New Zealand. The resulting ice cream comes out in a soft-serve-like spiral, tinged the color of the fruit. Zeds puts a Pacific Northwest twist on the New Zealand tradition by using Tillamook ice cream and berries from the Willamette Valley, including marionberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
The truck got its start in 2016 on Hawthorne Boulevard, inspired by one of the owners’ trips visiting family in New Zealand. After a couple years on Hawthorne, the truck moved to the Oregon Zoo, where during its seasonal months of April through September, it received a steady stream of customers for the past three years. That is, until this year, when the zoo shut down due to the pandemic in March, effectively shutting down the truck, too—and during some of its most important months.
Eager to get back in business, Zeds moved to its current spot in a little food cart pod at 1401 SE Division St at the end of June, where the owners plan to remain open until at least January 1. But in the beginning, business was slow.
“It’s been very difficult for us. [Business] just comes naturally at the zoo,” says Nico Vergara, one of the owners of Zeds. “We focused a lot on marketing this summer, and doing giveaways to try to drum up new clients.” Along with an increased social media presence on Instagram, he truck also began offering half pints for the first time.
And Zeds plans to keep reinventing itself throughout the fall and winter. The truck just began offering seasonal fall flavors, including spiced pumpkin and cinnamon apple. A tent and heaters are on the way, and the owners are considering adding hot drinks like coffee, apple cider, and hot cocoa to the menu. They’re also considering adding delivery service.
One of the truck’s most exciting pivots is its collaborations with other local businesses. This summer, the truck popped up and sold ice cream at Tea Bar and La Perlita. This fall, the owners teamed up with 180 Xurros to make churro ice cream sandwiches—a collaboration that they’re hoping to bring back again sometime this year.
Meanwhile, Zeds’ owners have been enjoying getting to know their community in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood. “It’s also been a very special summer for us, because we’ve found that we love our spot on 14th and Division,” Vergara says. “It’s always awesome to hear that families come back, and they tell us this is our Sunday family tradition, and that also means the world to us.” Now, it’s just a matter of keeping those Sunday traditions going throughout the winter.