Chris & Jennifer Saint, Sweet Treats

About three years ago Chris Saint of San Diego was recovering from spinal cord surgery. When it became clear that he couldn’t return to being a private investigator, he realized that he needed to find another career, or at the least, another way to spend his days, while his wife Jennifer sold real estate.

One day at a friend’s party, Chris, Jennifer and some others were reminiscing about the ice cream truck when they were kids – the excitement they had when they heard the music, the breathlessness from running in the house, scrounging for change and hoping you didn’t miss the truck, eating the peanuts off the top of a Drumstick, then the chocolate, then the vanilla ice cream, then crunching on the cone.

When they got home, the light bulb went off. Chris and Jennifer decided to modernize the ice cream truck. They drew up plans to convert an old delivery truck into a “pimped out truck with pin-striping and a rockin’ stereo system with a good bass beat.” With new music and gourmet ice cream, their target market was adults. They took their plan to a regular bank, but didn’t get very far. In fact, the bank didn’t ‘get ice cream’ and told the Saints that they were too much of a risk.

They were referred to ACCION – San Diego by a friend who had worked with ACCION. The greatest thing was when Jennifer and Chris presented their idea to ACCION – they ‘got it’ and loaned the Saints $35,000 in April 2008. “They didn’t laugh,” said Jennifer. “And they went all the way with us which was so cool.”

The Saints had it hard in first year. All of their friends and family thought they were crazy and said things like “you’re working so hard” or “are you sure you want to be doing this?” Nor could they find their niche. Their truck would sit at the after bar scene at for hours on end hoping to attract the after-club crowd, but they’d often come home with a whopping $25.

“Being in business for yourself and what goes into it – if you think it’s easy, then you have never owned your own business.”

So during their first year, Jennifer called their counselor many times, “’We are struggling, we don’t know what to do’ and they were always supportive. We wouldn’t still be here without ACCION in that first year.’” The Accion –San Diego counselor helped them reimaging their business plan and find a different niche, and business blossomed.

The Sweet Treats truck mainly caters corporate events with a menu that includes Häagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, Snow Cones and even dog ice cream. They do birthday parties, grand openings, other private events and the occasional farmers market. They became so successful that they went to CDC Small Business Finance for a bigger loan to pay off ACCION and buy another truck. They now have three trucks – the latest is a desert truck that carries cupcakes and other gourmet deserts from other small businesses. They are turning business away because they don’t have enough trucks, so they are looking at a fourth. Many of their clients are repeat clients, some are big names calling for bigger contracts. Now friends and family take the Saints seriously and ask Jennifer when she is leaving real estate.

Chris and Jennifer have two employees and hire lots of self-employed contractors, although Jennifer is still not full-time time as they’ve invested a lot of their profits into the business. She is starting to feel like getting close to the time when she will leave the real estate business. “I’m having more fun with Sweet Treats. I’d rather be doing this.”