The Secrets of a 25-Year Ice Cream Truck Veteran

Photo by Scott Suchman

Hamidu Jalloh has been an ice cream truck driver in Southeast DC for 25 years.

How did you become an ice cream truck driver?

When I came to this country [from Sierra Leone], I met my cousin who was doing the same thing, so he advised me to go here and get into the business.

What’s your top-seller?

Ice cream sandwiches, the Bomb Pops, the cartoon [popsicles]—Bug’s Bunny, SpongeBob, Spiderman.

Have people’s preferences changed over the years?

Not really. It’s a tradition, so it never changes. And I don’t think it’s going to change for a while. The only thing that’s changed is the cost.  

What’s changed about the cost?

For low-income people, it’s been very difficult to afford. For example, Snow Cones, we used to sell them for 50 cents. Now, you sell Snow Cones for two dollars.

How else has the business changed?

Now you go to all these pools, all these corner stores, they all have freezers. The competition is very high. It is getting harder.

In New York, there have been stories about ice cream truck turf wars that sometimes get a little vicious. Is there anything like that in DC?

Yeah, sometimes [a dispute] happens. But when it arises, we come to the lot [most trucks park at Berliner Specialty Distributors in Hyattsville]. I’m the former president for all vendors in the metro area. So what we do, me and the vending community manager of the company, we will bring individuals together and try to come to an understanding.

What is it that you like about the job?

The independency. You don’t have anybody bossing you around. You take your truck, you go out there. If you put in the hours and the effort and you become friendly with the people, you make your little living. You’re never going to get rich off of it.

Do you pick the music?

There are four or five tunes. I only play one: [Turkey] in the Straw.  

Do you ever get sick of it?

I don’t get sick of it, because I don’t pay attention to it. I just play it. I have to live with it. It’s like if I have a whining lady, what can I do? I cannot get rid of her.

What’s the best month for ice cream sales?

March through July 4th. Sales go down when school closes, because all the kids are going on vacations and they don’t have allowances that they have on school days.

What do you do in the winter?

I go back home. I have family there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.