Tuesdays, Mondays, we all scream for sundaes – it’s a classic old ditty most everyone knows – and Jake and Abby Ward decided to give the people what they want.
The Ice Cream Truck was originally a purchase by Jake’s parents, David and Tracy Ward. As it sat unused, they suggested Jake and Abby give it a whirl. It was spring 2020, and the two – who were engaged at the time – had found themselves with extra time on their hands, since Jake’s job as a teacher and coach with Russellville had gone on unexpected hiatus thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
They were already stocked up on ice cream labeled for resale, purchased from a Birmingham company, which Jake’s parents had bought when they first acquired the truck. After applying for their business permit and scrubbing out the deep freezers to fill with frozen treats, they were all set. “We had all the time in the world to do it,” Abby said.
“We really didn’t know how people would react,” Jake said. Abby agreed, saying they thought people would like it but “didn’t know how long the ‘new’ would last.”
They found immediate success.
“We just went through downtown, the District 2 area, and there was a lot of excitement. Kids were running out and jumping up and down,” Jake recalls. “We just thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome.’” From that first outing, they were hooked.
“We loved it. It was very exciting for us and the kids, getting to see a real ice cream truck,” Abby said. “A lot of the parents were just amazed – they hadn’t seen an ice cream truck in years,” Jake added.
So April 2020 launched a new side career for the couple. “It really took off. We started doing it pretty much every day,” Abby said. “Those first few days we would stay out eight hours – and there was no air in the truck, so at first it was rough.”
Since Abby grew up in Belgreen and graduated from Vina High School, and Jake grew up in and graduated from Russellville, he took the lead on selecting areas of town to visit. “At the beginning we stayed kind of in the same area, maybe going down a different street in that area each day,” he said. “We just took off, and when you’d come up to another road, you’d look, and if someone was racing out there waving their arms, you’d go down that road.”
“We were winging at first, for sure,” Abby said.
“We still are,” Jake joked.
As their business began to pick up, the couple found out they were expecting. So in the midst of getting their new business rolling and planning their Sept. 26, 2020, wedding – not to mention dealing with the basic challenges of the global pandemic – the couple added pregnancy into the mix. Born Jan. 12, little Ledger is the cherry on top for the Wards.
From making an appearance at the Wards’ rehearsal dinner, to serving up smiles at Russellville Elementary and Red Bay Founders Fest, the Ice Cream Truck has definitely gotten around in its first year of operation. The Wards have also parked outside local industries, bringing a little something sweet to employee break times; been invited to local churches; and been hired out for birthday parties.
The Wards said fan-favorite treats include any that are shaped like cartoon characters, the ice cream sandwich and the Big Dipper vanilla cone. They mostly stock the products that were already advertised on the side of the truck when it was purchased, with more than 60 varieties of treats typically filling the truck’s three freezers. The Bomb Pop Jr. is the lowest-priced treat at $1, while larger and more speciality items cost $3-4.
At times when Abby was unable to go out because of the pregnancy – and the lack of AC in the truck – Jake would go alone or enlist the help of younger brother Jaret, 21. Abby’s younger sister Layla has also helped out, making the truck something of a family affair.
They reduced their community outings to weekends only once school resumed in the fall and turned their focus to party bookings until the end of the season.
One of their summer events was a drive-through ice cream social for the community at Russellville First Baptist Church. Pastor Chase Dowdy said the event had a strong turnout and good response from the community. “It was essentially a time for people to drive through and get an ice cream. We wanted to let people know we loved them and encourage them during a trying time,” Dowdy explained. “It was something I think that made many folks’ day. It was a blessing to do that.”
Dowdy said since COVID-19 had kept the church from opening its doors, they wanted to host the Ice Cream Truck as a way to reach people outside the building. “Jake and Abby are always willing to help in any way they can with community events. They have a heart for Russellville,” Dowdy said.
Operating the Ice Cream Truck is a venture the Wards said they are excited to continue this year.
Outside of the ice cream business, Jake – an RHS 2010 graduate – coaches middle school football and basketball and is an assistant for varsity softball for Russellville, and he is an elementary reading intervention teacher. Abby, a 2018 graduate of Vina and daughter of Richie and Amy Hester, is majoring in elementary education at the University of North Alabama but took a semester off to welcome Ledger to the world. In the interim she served as an assistant basketball coach at Vina and works part time at Russellville Nutrition.
Ice cream-lovers can find The Ice Cream Truck – Russellville, Al, @icecreamtruckrville, on Facebook.