Arts & Culture

Mike’s Ice serves up ice cream with a cause

Newest food truck addition debuts after years of work, raises awareness about veterans

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Customers line up to sample the ice cream from Mike’s Ice, a food truck launched in July often found on the corner of Waterman and Thayer.

In the spirit of culinary entrepreneurship and social consciousness, food truck Mike’s Ice rolls through Providence feeding college students’ sugar cravings and promoting awareness of veterans’ struggles to reintegrate into civilian life.

Comprised of just six employees and often stationed on the corner of Thayer Street and Waterman Street, the start-up officially launched July 1st and has taken the foodie community by storm. Mimicking the popular Thai street food style of rolled ice cream, the food truck offers a variety of flavors primed for posting to social media, said Major Pettaway, chief executive officer of Mike’s Ice and former Marine Corps machine gunner. Flavors range from #yolo, a chocolate base with chocolate fudge, brownie bits and chocolate chips to #deeznuts, a vanilla base with chopped almonds, peanuts, pecans and a caramel drizzle.

“We wanted to innovate and get people generating hashtags,” Pettaway said. “We wanted to connect the menu to another aspect in our life, and social media is helping us market our products virtually,” he added.

Despite launching less than three months ago, Mike’s Ice has already garnered an incredible fan base on social media, Pettaway said. “With 16,700 followers on Instagram, it’s just starting to hit me just how big this is.”

Though the truck is one of the most recent additions to Providence’s culinary scene, the story of Mike’s Ice began years ago with the friendship of South Providence natives Pettaway,  current Chief Financial Officer Sadam J. Salas and the truck’s eponymous Michael Gnoato. After completing various levels of education, Pettaway, Salas and Gnoato all forged ties with the military — Pettaway entered the Marine Corps, Salas the Navy and Gnoato the Air Force.

Gnoato, while stationed in Wyoming, tragically passed away in a car accident Aug. 15th, 2013, Pettaway said. “I was in Afghanistan at the time, and I came back from one of our missions and checked my messages,” he added. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

When Pettaway came home from his tour in Afghanistan in March 2014, he and Salas reconnected. We “wanted to dedicate something to Mikey, and we were trying to make a brand for a frozen yogurt company,” he said. Before Pettaway and Salas could kickstart their company, Salas was deployed to Iraq, but the two remained in contact.

“During that year I was working on Mike’s Ice, Salas and I realized that no one (had) real food experience, and a passion for food was a missing element in the team,” Pettaway said. “We were two salty veterans trying to make an ice cream company, but neither one of us knew how to make ice cream.”

After their conversation, Pettaway began the search for an employee with culinary expertise and reached out to his former business colleague Zuliana Vidal,  the current head chef for Mike’s Ice. “It’s Zuliana’s talents and abilities that have helped us get here. She is definitely a very driven individual and the strongest team member we have ever had,” Pettaway said. “She’s a beast when it comes to the culinary.”  After helping to craft a menu, Pettaway expanded his team with Daescia “Daisy” Demoranville, a baking and culinary student at Johnson and Wales.

After they decided not to invest in the dying frozen yogurt industry and a brick-and-mortar establishment, Salas and Pettaway turned to ice cream. “It’s a staple in American cuisine, it’s not going anywhere,” Pettaway said.

They quickly associated with non-profit Year Up, which focuses on workforce development, and then pitched their  ideas to connecting non-profit Social Enterprise Greenhouse, which offered them scholarships to workshops and a space for headquarters. After years of preparation, Mike’s Ice officially opened in July.

Still intent on honoring Gnoato’s memory, the company immediately tackled  issues facing veterans. “It’s a military-focused and owned company,” Pettaway said. “Everyone who works here has military ties. We want to build awareness and get the conversation started.”

Working with fundraising platforms and non-profits such as Operation Stand Down, Edge4Vets and Backpacks for Life, Pettaway and Salas hope to affect change through their social missions. “We want to help the homeless veteran crises, and parts of the (ice cream) proceeds go to these organizations to help build awareness and get conversation started.”