Residents in Scappoose, St. Helens and Columbia City may have noticed a truck passing by that looks strangely like a pirate ship. The same “ship” may have also been playing the “Pirates of the Caribbean” song heard in the ride by the same name at Disneylandor Disney World. No, the inhabitants of the ship are not coming to plunder the village. In fact, they have been seen indulging in very un-pirate like behavior: giving out sweet treats to residents, for a very low price.
Pat McCord and Janeen Sepulveda, partners in life and in the ice cream business, have been running their pirate ship-themed ice cream truck, “Shiver Me Ice Cream” since 2016. McCord serves as “Captain” of the ship, and Sepulveda as “Quartermaster and First Mate.”
The ice cream ship starts running its route in May, and continues through the end of September, although last year the couple served customers at Halloweentown.
A typical daily route serves as many as 100 customers, making approximately 50 stops a day, according to Sepulveda. The couple said their truck has traveled very rural roads in the county, as well as stationed at county hot-spots like 13 Nights on the River, making sure to sell to as many people as they can.
Ice cream from the truck is pre-packaged, and includes Nestle Drumsticks, Haagen-Dazs vanilla milk chocolate bars, fruit bars, and around 20 different varieties of ice cream. The novelties cater to different diets, including dairy-free flavors as well as low-calorie and sugar-free ice cream. There’s even one brand, Frosty Paws, that is served exclusively to dogs for any customers who want to include their pets in on the fun.
Prices range from $1 to $4, with the average price being around $2.50 to $3.50. But Captain McCord said the couple doesn’t always adhere strictly to those prices.
“There’s been several times where kids and their parents stopped us and the parents for one reason or another didn’t realize they didn’t have any money on them,” McCord said. In those cases, the couple will sometimes let their customers have ice cream for free.
The couple will tell the customers, “you get an ice cream and next time you see us, you can pay for it or maybe not,” McCord said.
The couple does not have a contract with any ice cream company, and instead gets all of their product from grocery trips they make to places like Costco.
One reason the couple is lax on whether or not customers have money has to do with the fact that they run the business without the expectation that they will make a profit. According to McCord, the profit the couple has made off the business in the past has been very low.
But making money is not the primary purpose of the business. The couple recently moved to Chapman, Oregon, near Scappoose, to be near one of their grown children who has recently had a baby. The new grandparents are ready to settle down.
“We just don’t want to work that hard anymore and just enjoy life a little bit,” Sepulveda said. McCord added, “We just love the truck and spreading the pirate joy.”
The pirate theme was inspired by McCord’s love of pirates. McCord is a bronze artist who would frequent Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) pirate events for about eight years. When he stopped going to events and working at his foundry, he and Sepulveda started wondering what they would do with all of their leftover pirate-ware. One idea was to have a garage sale. Another idea was to put the costumes to use.
“We decided we were going to be pirates all summer long,” McCord said. That meant starting up their business, dressing as pirates and decking out their truck in material that made it look like a pirate ship.
The couple thinks the business has been successful.
“People are just great, and they’ve really welcomed us, and they’ve really been supportive of us,” Sepulveda said.
The most challenging part of the business has simply been keeping the treats cold.
“A couple of weeks back, we had a power glitch at the house and lost an entire freezer full of product,” McCord said, “and then a couple of days later my inverter broke.”
An inverter, which converts battery power into household power to run appliances, is a necessary part of having a freezer. McCord had to drive all the way to Portland to replace the inverter, only to return home and realize the inverter he had bought was broken.
“So, I had to bring that one back before we could come back out,” McCord said.
If it’s an especially hot day, or if there are any problems with the freezer, (which is decorated to look like a pirate’s chest), it can cause a lot of the top-layer ice creams to thaw out and become misshapen, or eventually melt, which is not good-quality ice cream for customers.
McCord said he has developed a couple of different tricks to stop that from happening, like having a separate bag for the top layer ice creams.
The miles driven also pose a challenge. Because their truck does not get very good mileage, if the couple ever decides to expand further out into the county, which they said they would like to do, they need to find a cost-effective way to do so.
One way is to show up at events, such as 13 Nights on the River or other celebrations, rather than stick solely to neighborhood routes. Sepulveda said events tend to generate a larger profit for their business than simply driving around the community.
“We tried to get into Rainier Days and we didn’t jump on that soon enough. We thought about the Columbia County Fair, especially once we can have our own product that we make, instead of just novelties,” Sepulveda said.
Sepulveda also has a baking hobby and said she has thought about combining her baking with ice cream-selling in the future.
Until the business expands, the couple is content with where they are now.
Their favorite part of running their business is seeing the kids’ reactions when they come around the corner.
“It’s fun to drive around a corner and just see 10 kids running in 10 different directions and they’re all excited,” McCord said, “and then after they get their ice cream, they’re excited still.”
The business has a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/shivermeicecream/, and sometimes when customers message them and request they go out to their side of town, the couple will honor their request.
“If we can possibly do it, we’ll be there,” McCord said.
Another favorite aspect is seeing the community bond over their business, according to the couple.
“There’s just lots of firsts for people and neighbors coming out and buying for other neighbors’ kids,” Sepulveda said. “It’s just nice.”