Free soft-serve makes exams sweeter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SALISBURY — Imagine you’re a college student studying for this week’s finals, and you hear that the ice cream truck is on campus, offering free soft-serve cones and Slushies.
This is what college is all about.
“We come out here all the time,” says Joe Bello, operator of a Mr. Cone ice cream truck in Salisbury and Kannapolis. “They love us here.”
On this particular day, Catawba College has asked Mr. Cone to park near the Administration Building for an hour as part of the Senior Class’ gift presentation to the school.
Bello moves quickly inside the truck, handling the constant line of requests for vanilla, chocolate or twist cones; dipped cones in flavors such as butterscotch and cherry; or fruit-flavored Slushies.
“This hits the spot on a hot, warm day,” Catawba student Howard Richardson Jr. says.
“It’s really good,” adds sophomore Brianna Markle as she tastes her vanilla cone, dipped in chocolate with sprinkles.
“I love it. It’s really nice to have ice cream.”
Zandi Watts, secretary of the senior class, has one word for her chocolate swirl cone with rainbow sprinkles:
Four years ago, Bello was processing mortgages in southern Florida when the bottom dropped out of the real estate market, and he moved here to be with family.
Today, he prepares tax returns during the off-season and otherwise keeps busy with the Mr. Cone enterprise, which attends festivals and fairs and is available for special events such as birthdays, church functions, graduations and parties.
Bello’s father-in-law started the business in 1989 in Miami by driving a popsicle truck through neighborhoods. Since then, he has converted 20 postal delivery trucks, usually bought cheaply at auctions, into Mr. Cone ice cream vehicles that are in operation from New York to Florida.
This area has two trucks — one offering soft-serve ice cream and the other a freezer-equipped model selling hand-dipped ice cream. The cost for a soft-serve truck is about $50,000, compared to $20,000 for the others — a reason you don’t usually see a lot of soft-serve trucks.
The extra costs come mainly from the Electro Freeze soft-serve ice cream machines, the large vehicle platforms needed and the high-powered generators required for the soft-serve process.
Bello thinks Mr. Cone offers the best soft-serve ice cream available. He says it’s a premium Hershey’s soft-serve mix with 10 percent butter cream, delivered to Mr. Cone every week from Pennsylvania.
Cheaper soft-serve ice creams tend to have more air whipped into them with only 4 percent to 6 percent butter-cream content.
“If there’s not enough butter cream,” Bello says, “the ice cream tends to taste icy and not very smooth.”
Bello contends that 80 percent of American ice cream consumers prefer soft-serve ice cream over all other types. Soft-serve ice cream, he says, is produced at 20 degrees, compared to other ice cream, which is stored at minus 10 degrees.
“A warmer temperature allows the tastebuds to detect more flavor,” he adds.
When offering its full menu, Mr. Cone has cones in 10 different flavors, shakes, sundaes, banana splits and Slushies. With the cones, you can start with a vanilla, chocolate or twist base, then choose among eight different toppings or have it dipped.
Mr. Cone also makes homemade vanilla waffle cones or waffle bowls for sundaes, if the customer is willing to wait sometimes for the waffles to cool down.
On occasion, Mr. Cone will run routes into selected neighborhoods with its freezer-based truck (not the soft-serve). The fuel costs for running generators and the trucks themselves make it impractical to have regular residential routes for a soft-serve truck, Bello says.
When soft-serve Mr. Cone isn’t committed to a festival or other event, it sometimes will park in Kannapolis at North Cannon Boulevard and 22nd Street.
Bello says in its biggest days, Mr. Cone has served some 1,000 cones. At the busier festivals, the whole family is mobilized and other help is hired.
Bello usually knows before he opens the truck for customers what kind of day he’ll have.
“The secret is, the sun has to be out,” he says.
And with the high costs of running a soft-serve truck, “I can only go out if I know I’m going to have a productive day,” he says.
To get more people acquainted with Mr. Cone, Bello is running a $75 special, which offers 50 cones for a local event.
He also has a Facebook page at
At the Catawba College event, senior Shannon McLain took a break from studying to enjoy a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate with sprinkles.
“It was delicious,” she says. “Just what I needed this afternoon.”
Yes, this is what college is all about.
For more information or to schedule Mr. Cone for an event, contact Joe Bello at 704-771-0148, or Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or