WETHERSFIELD – A restored 1960 International Harvester van that once ferried Air Force troops to New Mexico is ready to go from Main Street Creamery & Cafe as an ice cream catering van for weddings and other grand events.
Company owner Michael Clarke, who likes to “breathe new life” into old vehicles and other items, said the food van isn’t just about ice cream and sweet toppings.
“It’s unique and it adds something to the event,” he said. “It goes with ice cream because it’s nostalgic. Old vehicles bring back memories of a simpler time.
Although his van was used to transport troops, the Metro model made in Bridgeport was commonly used to deliver bread and milk, he said.
Clark restored the van with the advice and expertise of Mark Tower, who then owned Shoreline Metal Services in East Haven, but has since sold the business.
“I took the job because it’s a very unique pickup,” Tower said. “When you watch one of those old TV shows, you can (see) it go in the background.”
Tower said people would be drawn to the van. Clarke said it’s happened before.
“I can tell he wants to do great things with the community, and he’s a great vehicle to do that,” Tower said.
Together they replaced the rusted metal, stripped the body, painted the old van and fashioned a metal service window from the original body rather than just drilling a hole and inserting a newly made part.
Inside the van are metal shelving, sink, fridge and freezer.
“It was a big project, but we got a lot done in a short time,” Clarke said. “One of the things I like about old cars is that people are happy to see them.”
The immaculate sky-blue van – its former bodywork now seemingly flawless – recently had its inaugural gig at Wethersfield High School for a fundraiser to benefit Ukraine. Clarke donated profits to the cause.
“The ice cream was very popular. It was a success,” said Sondra Blanczaco, a school tutor and producer of the theater program who helped organize the event. “It’s a great business. They do a lot for the community and are an integral part of Wethersfield.
Community is what it’s all about for Clarke, a former high school English teacher who points out that his family owns the business, and that includes his wife Kathy, an educator, and their three children, Owen, 13. years old, Jack, 11 years old and Lily, 7 years old.
Clarke taught for 10 years and felt it was time for a career change when they bought the company six seasons ago.
“This business became available,” near where the family lives, and he recalled his son Owen once writing in a preschool journal that he wanted to be an “ice cream man” when he would be great.
“Everyone who walks in the door wants to be there,” unlike high school, he said of the company.
The family won’t get rich off the ice cream van, as it doesn’t go on the highway and is hard to drive, so gigs will be limited to Wethersfield and surrounding towns.
“This van drives like an old delivery van with a lot of weight in the back,” he said. “It’s an adventure (to drive).”
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The Clarkes have been hosting events since taking over the creamery, but they were previously served from a cart that had to be hauled by a trailer.
“Restoring the van and using it makes things easier for us and was a good fit with my love of classic cars,” Clarke said.
Catering ice cream packages vary, from $120 to have ice cream dropped off to $7.50 to $9.50 per guest for full service which can include cones, sundaes or a sundae bar .
The creamery offers over 50 flavors of locally made ice cream for them and includes vegan, gluten-free, low-fat and low-sugar varieties.
As for the origins of the minivan model, Harvester is a former American company that made tractors and trucks and partnered with Metropolitan Body Co. in Bridgeport, Clarke said.
Clarke said he loves that the creamery is a “social hub” in town where families meet other families and bring their dogs.
“It makes me happy to see happy people and to be able to support the city,” he said.