Welcome to Dr. Frederick Douglass Opie's personal website

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Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Ice Cream

New York City Ice Cream Venders, circa 1930 (courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Immigrant entrepreneurs played an important social role in urban cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.  New immigrants commonly sought out street venders who sold a taste of home and  spoke their language. These entrepreneurs often set up their mobile eateries in the business districts that employed large number of people, near public transportation stops, and neighborhood meeting places like food markets. In these spaces  ice cream venders became a part of the urban landscape when the weather became hot. Historically many new immigrants in New York turned to selling food as street venders as one of their first forms of employment because it required little in the way of licenses, language barriers, or formal training.  If one was savvy, had a product in high demand like ice cream on a hot day, and either had or quickly learned business acumen they could advance. Location was and still is crucial in real-estate and selling street food. Having a catchy signature cry that advertised your product represented a key marketing strategy that separated the top entrepreneurs from the average ones. This proved particularly the case when selling a highly perishable product like ice cream on a hot summer day on the streets of New York. An enterprising ice cream vender could over time save enough money to open a brick and mortar eatery that sold ice cream and more and become a home owner.

Gladys Knight’s on Her Aunt Velma's Corn Off the Cob

Ice Cream and Early 20th Century Cuba