By Cecilla Chan
GSN Managing Editor
Handcrafting a batch of ice cream for a golf course when the mercury is hitting triple digits is no problem for Nitro Live Icecreamery.
Founder and CEO Felicia Vandermolen and her husband, Rich, the company’s president, recently shuttered their storefront in Gilbert and went full-time with a mobile pop-up store. They truck their cold concoctions to just about anywhere with a liquid nitrogen tank in tow.
“Instead of waiting for people to come to the store, we go to them,” said Felicia Vandermolen, a life-long Gilbert resident. “We try to bring what everyone wants to where they want it.”
Going to the customers has taken Nitro Live to as far north as Flagstaff and down south to Tucson, catering bar mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, corporate gatherings, professional sporting events and even at the recent Elton John concert.
Nitro Live also has a booth during the Arizona Coyotes hockey season at Gila River Arena in Glendale and is at a number of school events around the East Valley, such as the Hamilton High School Spring Fling on Feb. 14 in Chandler.
Besides catering events, Nitro also will pop up at various locations in the Valley.
“This allows us to better serve our customer base,” Rich Vandermolen said.
The couple always had the food-truck business when they operated the Gilbert store, but now that they are in it full-time with a staff of six, they say they have more time to spend with their grandchildren.
“There’s more flexibility in catering than with brick and mortar,” Felicia Vandermolen said, adding it also allows them to have a better control over inventory.
The food truck industry reached an estimated $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, with an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent, according to the latest data from U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Food trucks are not a fad but a viable market segment with significant competitive advantages over quick-serve, fast-food and take-out food vendors, according to Emergent Research.
Food trucks get to market more quickly and have much lower operating costs.
They also can quickly and easily test new concepts, menus and recipes and are tightly focused on their customers, getting up close and personal with patrons every day to gain instant insights into menu and food preferences, according to Emergent.
Not limited by the confines of a menu, Nitro Live can tailor just about any flavor to suit a customer’s taste buds, Felicia Vandermolen said.
For a recent rodeo event, Nitro Live was tasked with producing a spicy flavored ice cream.
Using ingredients such as chicken wing glaze, chili pepper, garlic salt and cream, they produced an ice cream that was sweet and savory, Rich Vandermolen said.
Nitro Live also has a wide variety of ice cream choices for those with dietary restrictions.
For bookings, the staff will dress accordingly. For instance, at a children’s event they will don lab coats because making ice cream with liquid nitrogen is like a science show with lots of cool fog emitting from the metal bowls.
There’s no limit to where Nitro Live can make its ice cream.
One booking took the Nitro Live ice cream truck to the middle of a golf course in July during a charity event when the temperature was 114 degrees, according to Rich Vandermolen.
It wasn’t a problem making the ice cream when the liquid nitrogen is minus-320 degrees, he said.
The couple keeps its supplies and an office at a commercial kitchen in Gilbert.
“The only things limiting us in catering are staff and equipment,” Felicia Vandermolen said.
And with that, the duo is in the planning stages of retrofitting a recreational vehicle into one giant ice cream truck with lights and seating. They hope to have it on the road by the end of the year.
For those who still prefer to eat their ice cream in a store, a Nitro Live Icecreamery franchise is expected to open in early March in Queen Creek.