By B.C. Manion
Tokyo Ice Cream, a Lutz-based business, began with a simple concept: A mother wanted to have a flexible schedule to enable her to spend time with her two young children as they grow up.
So her family decided to begin selling ice cream from a truck.
The business plan got a little more ambitious when this woman and her husband decided they could use their company not only to help themselves, but to support community causes, too.
And now, their mission has morphed into making a commitment to do their part to help the people in Japan, who are reeling from an earthquake, tsunami and radioactive leaks.
The company combines the old-fashioned concept of driving a truck around neighborhoods to sell ice cream, with a twist. Its ice cream truck is a neon green van. And, when it is used at special events, such as birthday parties, the couple dresses up to make the gatherings more festive. The woman dresses as Hello Kitty or Hatsune Miku costume, while her husband dons an Optimus Prime costume.
The company was launched on Valentine’s Day, said Rachel Kline, who owns the company with her husband, David.
She said they had no idea the company would be taking so many turns, so soon.
Initially, Kline thought it would just help her family.
But then she got to thinking: “What if, instead of just doing the ice cream truck, we were ice cream vendors that helped the community? What about helping schools raise money, or (what about helping) churches?”
So, she put out some feelers offering this deal: The company would sell ice cream at fundraisers and would split the profits.
And, the company has already had some events and has lined up others, Kline said.
“Booking is always free,” she said. “You don’t ever have to pay anything to us. You simply invite us to your event.”
Sharing the proceeds seems only fair, she said.
“To me, if someone is going to bring me their congregation or bring me their student body, I would feel greedy taking any more than 50 percent (of the profits).”
She thinks the timing was perfect for her company.
“There was a need for it. A lot of our schools are having programs cut. Churches are trying to pay their own mortgages. We’ve already worked with schools and churches,” she said.
The company is willing to work community yard sales, hospital fundraisers or other kinds of fundraiser, Kline said.
It’s also available for special events. A birthday party, for instance, costs $100 and includes 50 servings of ice cream, costumed characters, balloons and face painting.
The bulk of the company’s business comes from the route it drives in Lutz and Land O’ Lakes and its stops at the recreational complex, Kline said.
She and her husband love interacting with children and their families.
The personal connections they make are much like the ones that were made by the milkman and the bread man in years gone by, Kline said.
“We sell Good Humor ice cream. It’s been around for almost 100 years,” she said.
When the familiar music of the ice cream trucks plays, while rolling through the neighborhood, children come running.
“They’re so excited to see you,” she said. “They all run outside.”
And the treats are not expensive.
“What’s a dollar?” Kline said. “Kids get such a kick out of it.”
It’s a feel-good business, she added. “Our customers are always happy.”
The name Toyko Ice Cream stems from an abiding affection Kline has had for the Japanese culture that began when she was a young girl, growing up in upstate New York.
“I love their philosophy of inner peace, respecting your environment, helping your fellow man,” Kline said.
She said her husband had recommended a local name for their business: Lutz Ice Cream.
She wanted something with a bit more flair.
Besides reflecting her love for all things Japanese, it also establishes a link to the fun side of Japan, including its Anime cartoon characters.
Kline had no idea when she registered the company’s name that Japan would be reeling from not only an earthquake and a tsunami, but also from radiation leaks from a nuclear power plant.
“It just hurts my heart,” Kline said.
“Thousands of lives were lost in the tsunami. There are villages that are gone.”
And no one can predict the potential long-term effects of the radiation leaks, she said.
After she heard the news, she reflected on how she could help.
She thought about putting out collection jars, but she decided it would be more effective to post a sign encouraging people to make donations to the American Red Cross.
“The Red Cross is a world leader in relief. All you have to do is send a text. It’s a $10 donation,” she said.
She also intends to stay informed and to pass along news about what’s happening in Japan to customers who inquire.
“We have a platform to raise awareness,” she said, and she aims to use it.
“They inspired me and now, I feel it is my duty to raise awareness for them.
“Japan is a country that has often helped other countries in the world with disaster relief. Now, it is time for the world to help them.”
Tokyo Ice Cream offers a variety of services. For more information go to www.tokyoicecream.net