Spokane Journal of Business

Bomb Pops, Big Dippers ice sales

Rainbow Ice Cream Novelties

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What-A-Melon Bomb Pops, Firecracker Jrs., and Strawberry Burst Big Dippers are among the wares of Spokane-based Rainbow Ice Cream Novelties.

Its tools of the trade include 10 small, three-wheeled vehicles, each equipped with a freezer chest and a single speaker on the roof, from which blares tinny renditions of The Entertainer, Turkey in the Straw, or Pop Goes the Weasel.

It can get a little irritating, but its mandatory, Dorinda Paul says of the music. You have to have that music box because the kids can hear it from blocks away. It doesnt take long for a kid to recognize that and to know that it means ice cream is comin. We like to say, Its built into them at birth, she says.

Rainbow Ice Cream Novelties got its start in Marysville, Wash. Paul says that she and her husband, Jerry, launched the business in 1983, with just one truck that his uncle drove for them. The Pauls each had jobs of their own at that timeworking as bus drivers for the city of Everett.

Gradually, the ice cream business grew.

In 1988, the Pauls decided that they needed to move their business to a place that had longer summers and that could support more truckspreferably Hawaii. They learned, though, that there were too many obstacles to running an ice cream business on the islands, and the cost of living was too high.

They then turned their attention to Spokane, where they were wooed by the Spokane Area Economic Development Council.

The EDC was wonderful, and Spokane fit our criteria perfectly, Dorinda Paul says. It has a large enough customer base to support the businesss fleet of trucks, and it has a really nice summer.

So, in March 1990, Rainbow opened a location here. At that time, the company operated a total of 15 vehicles combined in Spokane and Marysville. After two years of dividing their time, the Pauls closed their operation in Marysville, sold off the handful of vehicles they had there, and began concentrating their efforts on Spokane.

The Pauls operate Rainbow, which is located in an about 1,250-square-foot warehouse at 608.5 N. Maple, from April 1 to Oct. 1. Dorinda Paul declines to disclose the companys annual sales, but says that the business is profitable. The remaining six months of the year, the Pauls relax, spend time with their family, and pursue other interests, she says.

Paul says the best times at which to sell ice cream are non-rainy days, when the temperature is between 75 degrees and 85 degrees.

The Pauls are Rainbows sole employees. Dorinda Paul handles the business side of the company, while Jerry Paul handles the repair and maintenance of the companys fleet.

Rainbow contracts with up to 15 drivers to cover the Spokane area during its six-month operating season. Those drivers, one of whom has worked with the Pauls for nine years, buy their supplies of frozen treats from Rainbow and turn around and sell them to their customers, about two-thirds of whom are children, for between 50 cents and $2 an item, Dorinda Paul says. She says that wholesale distributors elsewhere in Eastern Washington and North Idaho also buy products from Rainbow.

The Spokane business, which for the past five years has been a distributor for Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells Blue Bunny, buys about $70,000 worth of frozen treats each year and stores its inventory in a roughly 500-square-foot freezer at its warehouse here, Paul says. That freezer, which can store up to 22 pallets of ice cream confections at a time, is kept at 20 degrees below zero.

The Pauls have divided the Spokane area into nine distribution areas, and assign each driver to an area. Many drive their route seven days a week. In a couple of the areas, such as one north of Francis Avenue and one in the far east Valley that extends to the Washington-Idaho border, drivers cover up to 70 miles a day. Drivers whose routes are closer to the city core cover only 10 to 25 miles a day, Dorinda Paul says.

Driver Brenda Bittle, who has been labeled the ice cream lady by her little customers, says theres never a dull moment when youre driving an ice cream truck.

The kids can hear me coming from about two blocks away. So, most times when I turn the corner, I see all these kids jumping up and down and flailing their arms in the air, Bittle says demonstrating. Its so cute. Theyre trying to get my attentionas if I couldnt already see them, she smirks.

Other times, Bittle says shell pull over for one child whos standing alone on the sidewalk, and by the time she hands him a treat, theres as many as 20 kids standing there.

Sometimes, I just have no idea where they come from, Bittle says.

The drivers, who are responsible for buying their own fuel, hit the road by about noon and dont return to Rainbows warehouse until around 9 p.m., or sooner depending on what time the sun is setting.

For safety reasons, we never want our drivers out past dark, Paul says.

Also to protect the drivers safety, Paul declines to disclose how much ice cream each driver sells on a daily basis.

Each driver carries 18 different items, including the standard ice cream sandwiches, vanilla ice cream bars dipped in chocolate, and Fudge bars. The drivers also sell specialty items, such as the Looney Tunes Cup, which is a plastic cup covered with Looney Tunes characters and filled with vanilla-, strawberry-, and raspberry-flavored ice cream; the Caramel Apple, which is caramel on a stick surrounded by a layer of apple-flavored ice; and a favorite with many childrenice cream bars shaped like various cartoon characters, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Bugs Bunny, or the Tasmanian Devil. Then theres also a What-A-Melon Bomb Pop, which is watermelon-flavored ice on a stick that has dark-chocolate seeds in the middle, and a Fudge Bomb Pop, which is a missile-shaped frozen confection that features alternating layers of fudge and banana flavoring.

One driver says that the hottest item on his west Valley route is the Vanilla Big Dipper, which is a scoop of vanilla ice cream atop a plain ice cream cone. The inside of the cone, however, has been coated with chocolate, and the scoop of ice cream also has been dipped in chocolate and covered with chopped peanuts.

Another popular item is the Snow Cone, Paul says. She adds, though, that her personal favorite is the Strawberry Burst Big Dipper Ice Cream Cone, which is a scoop of strawberry ice cream on a cone, the inside of which is coated with white chocolate. The outside of the strawberry ice cream is dipped in a strawberry-flavored coating and covered with rice.

But you better watch out, Paul says of the Strawberry Burst Big Dipper. Its addictive.

  • Lisa Harrell

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