OCEAN CITY – The summertime tradition of snowballs could fill the vacant position as Ocean City’s ice cream truck franchise as officials were open this week to amending the code.
Over the last month, the Mayor and City Council have been debating the definition of what is allowed to be sold on the city’s vehicle vending franchise that has traditionally been pre-packaged ice cream.
Earlier this year, the exclusive holder of the town’s ice cream truck franchise informed the town he would not be able to fulfill the remainder of his current four-year contract, which was not to expire until 2016.
As a result, town officials agreed to re-open the bidding process for the ice cream truck franchise with a due date of Feb. 9. The Selbyville company Georgeo’s Water Ice was the lone applicant when the bids were opened, but the Mayor and City Council rejected the lone undisclosed bid amount and voted to rebid the franchise to a broader vendor base. However, before the new bidding process opened, town officials expressed a desire to tighten the definition of what kinds of goods could be offered by the ice cream truck franchisee.
The current code is restrictive and allows only for pre-packaged goods, including ice cream, candy and non-alcoholic beverages. The code is also restrictive on the areas the ice cream truck franchisee can operate, limiting it to residential areas with condos, apartment and hotels and away from established businesses that might offer the same goods. For example, the ice cream truck is not allowed to operate anywhere in the ocean block areas near the Boardwalk where existing businesses also offer ice cream and similar goods.
Before putting the franchise back out to bid, town officials wanted to tighten the definition of what goods were allowed to prevent a “food truck” from operating in the town. Food trucks have become increasingly popular around the country and offer a wide variety of prepared foods in a variety of locations. The Ocean City Mayor and City Council’s intent is to redefine what is allowed to be sold by its ice cream truck franchisee in order to prevent competition with existing businesses.
Last week Councilman Dennis Dare suggested the code could be amended to allow for certain other goods without crossing the line to a food truck and infringing on other businesses. Dare said allowing the ice cream truck franchisee to offer other goods could improve its chances for success and prevent a similar situation where the franchisee had to default.
However, his colleagues disagreed, stating a less-restrictive code would open a can of worms. After considerable debate, the council voted to leave the definition as it is with just ice cream, candy and non-alcoholic beverages with no other “pre-packaged” foods allowed.
At Monday’s council meeting, Go Melvo Snoballs President/Owner Jeff McMahon asked the Mayor and City Council to consider adding flavored shaved ice, known as snowballs, to the definition.
“We have been operating in Sussex County Del. for the past 20 years using mobile trucks and most recently beach trailers on the Fenwick Island State Line Beach,” McMahon said. “I am very proud of how much our company has grown over the years and the relationships we have built with customers who now come back and see getting a snowball from us as part of their family tradition. I am the snowball man. They are very simple and very delicious and we do it the best.”
The fact is people are not interested in buying the pre-packaged ice cream as much as they used to be, McMahon stated. He pointed out between 130th Street and the neighborhood of Montego Bay there are six ice cream concessions between the three blocks.
“In my opinion, the ice cream market is over saturated in Ocean City,” he said. “I believe snowballs are what Ocean City needs. Snowballs are a delicacy in Maryland. I truly believe the people that vacation here would appreciate and welcome the change from ice cream to snowballs. Our Maryland residents, especially those who vacation here from Baltimore, grew up on snowballs … It has been a long time coming, and it would be a great change.
Along with asking the council consider including snowballs with the vehicle vending franchise, McMahon also asked the council to consider allowing beach trailers to be used, like what is used to store umbrella and chair rentals on the beach, instead of only trucks.
“That is the first positive comments I have heard in something to add to the ice cream truck. It is in the same family as ice cream, and I can’t believe it is something that nobody has mentioned up here. It has made a lot of sense. Rather than chips, apples and sodas, ice cream and snowballs can come out of the trucks. That would increase the viability for the business and offer variety to the visitors. Snoballs are a Maryland tradition, and it is a great idea,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “As far as the beach trailers, I don’t feel the same way. There are numerous applications and types of businesses that would like to do that. We have been consistent in not going in that direction.”
According to City Clerk Kelly Allmond, an amendment to the code would have to be made by emergency ordinance as the bid advertisement period is approaching.
The council invited McMahon to return to next week’s work session where the council will consider amending the code regarding the vehicle vending franchise to include snowballs.