By Cheryl Conway
It has been 20 years since Martin Osborn of Budd Lake has been riding around town in his ice-cream truck selling his frozen treats.
For anyone who lives or has visited, whether at the parks or in the neighborhoods, Marty’s Ice-cream has been a staple in Mt Olive and nearby towns for two decades now. Living in town since he was 7 years old and even a 1983 graduate of Mt. Olive High School, Osborn has made quite a business for himself and looks forward to it every day.
“I like how people are always happy when they come to the ice-cream truck,” says Osborn, 54. “You never get mad people. You always get happy people; everybody is happy. I look forward to doing it every day.
“I tell my kids it’s always good to find what you like and enjoy,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what it is, if like it and enjoy it, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
Osborn started his own business Marty’s Ice-Cream in 1998 after working for Pied Piper ice-cream truck company in Byram for four years. That company operated 20 trucks at the time before going out of business, he says.
Right after graduating high school he entered the Army stationed in Louisiana from 1985 to 1988.
“I was a baker in the army,” says Osborn. “I baked for a 1,000 soldiers, cakes, pies, pastries, donuts, anything they wanted. You had to learn how to be a soldier and cook at the same time. I cooked out in deserts; I cooked in the woods.”
Osborn’s baking days began when he was a child, he says. “When I was 8 years old I’d bake cookies and give them out. I grew a fondness for it.” He worked as a volunteer at a bakery in Netcong for free on weekends and then for a baker in Hackettstown.
“I worked for restaurants in cooking and baking before that,” he says.
When he saw an ad in the paper to drive an ice-cream truck, he says, he decided to “change it up a bit” and that change became his profession.
“You drive around and have no boss, it seemed a bit fun,” says Osborn. “You work by yourself and you have to work really hard. It’s for you…you’re not working for somebody.”
Watching the kids in the community grow into adults has been interesting as has the changes in society.
“When I first started doing it, I enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s fun watching all the kids; 10 to 12 years it changes; 10 years later they’ll graduate college or have kids of their own; it’s fun to watch.”
Through his business, Osborn provides pre-packed ice-cream, drinks and candy from cones to sandwiches to funny face bars to ice pops. “I have like 65 things,” in prices that range from $1 to $4.
His work hours depend on the day he says, with some days busier than others. He can work up to 11 hours a day in the summer but come fall, his hours may be just five or six a day, he says.
“Sometimes I stop and get me an ice coffee,” he laughs.
Osborn drives around Mt. Olive, stopping at most populated venues such as Turkey Brook Park, Flanders Park as well as area towns including Byram, Netcong and Stanhope. He makes sure to stop at apartment complexes including Hensyn Village in Netcong as well as Budd Lake’s Kings Village and Eagle Rock Village.
He will typically hit Budd Lake on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and then Flanders on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so each area will each get coverage two sessions per week.
“People don’t have the money every day so you kind of split it up,” says Osborn.
Tracking his stops, Osborn says he makes an average of 50 to 75 stops per day.
“I drive around and have people come to the truck,” he describes. “You are kind of like a bartender; you talk to people; you have time to conversate. You drive around the streets and talk to people. Driving around the streets is my favorite thing.”
There is nothing quite like happy customers, such as kids, running up to the truck with big happy faces wanting to buy an ice-cream.
For four years now, the McBrides of Budd Lake have been one of his regular customers.
“My older son chases him down everywhere,” says Erica McBride after treating her two boys, Jack, 7, and Shane, 4, with some ice-cream from Marty while at Turkey Brook Park in August.
“He’s so funny to the kids,” says McBride. “My son’s a talker; he’ll have a nice conversation with him. He’s very friendly,” she says about Osborn.
On a typical day Osborn says he will head out around 11 a.m., hit the park first, then beaches in Byram, park again, “Then at 4 I start doing my streets. I do a lot of camps, morning parties at 10 or 11. His regular route is from 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., he says, then he puts away his ice-cream and heads home around 10 p.m.
He has a freezer inside his truck, where he stores his ice-cream; and receives deliveries from local wholesalers such as Jack & Jill and Wards ice-cream companies.
Besides purchasing the goods to sell, other costs include gas and truck maintenance. He averages about 10,000 to 12,000 miles a year on his truck.
He stops about twice weekly to fill up his truck with gas, which is not that bad, he says, with mostly local driving, especially since the “new truck is better on gas than the old truck.”
Four years ago Osborn replaced his truck for the first time since starting his business. He does not recall the mileage he had on his “old truck” which was 40 years old, he says, adding “that things [odometer] never worked. It was too old; you break down, can’t find parts.”
Osborn’s new truck- a 2014 Dodge Ram Promaster- can’t be missed as it is bright yellow, unlike his old truck, a 1971 white Chevy.
“I figured yellow would look much better,” he says. “It stands out; people see it.”
Just like his old truck, competing with other ice-cream trucks is also a thing in the past.
Times Have Changed
“I used to have competition but no more,” says Osborn, adding that he used to have three or four competitors. “It’s not an easy business; you have to build it up over the years. I’ve had a pretty good fan base.”
Also a factor has been the change in kids’ past-times. Kids used to be outside more playing ball with their friends, riding bikes, running through sprinklers, selling lemonade on street corners.
Video games and social media have taken over with less kids on the streets, more parents working, leaving kids to stay inside more than in years’ past.
“A lot of people do camps, so I do a lot of camps and daycare where kids are out when parents aren’t home,” he says.
When he first started his business he says more kids were outside. Now no one is home; they are at camps or day care.
“So you don’t start the streets until 4 p.m. when parents are home,” he explains. “Kids do play outside but not as much as when I first started.”
To get their attention, Osborn used to have a bell, which was easy to hear when kids were outside. He now plays music “to get their attention,” he says.
Looking at his customer base, Osborn says he will serve about 75 to 100 customers daily. His biggest clientele are kids with parents. He does get all ages, older people “they like old fashioned Screwball or Bomb Pop.”
Osborn says, “You get everybody really; you get anywhere from 2 years old to 80 years old, they’ll buy.”
Most popular items are the Bomb Pop, cookie sandwich, ice cream sandwich and face bars, he says, and “Italian ices have gotten popular over the years.”
His newer items, Mexico Paletas or rice pudding bars, pecan bars, cookie-n-cream and coconut are 100 percent natural flavored ice-cream. His favorite is the rice pudding ice-cream pop, he says.
With September already here, Osborn usually ends his season at the end of October. He runs his ice-cream truck business beginning of April, sometimes as early as March, through October’s end. In the winter, he delivers Dominoes’ Pizza in Budd Lake, a job he has had for the past four or five years, he says.
“They put me on the schedule whenever I want,” Osborn appreciates.
Since getting his new truck, Osborn says “business has improved. I was doing ok but now I can breathe a little bit.” He could not trust the old truck, he says, so he had to limit some of his stops “but now people call me for parties and I can go.”
For parties, Osborn says he shows up with his truck and kids buy ice-cream. He travels within a 30 mile radius for parties.
Old fashion still, Osborn says he does not have a website but can be reached “by word of mouth” or simply chasing him down when he is seen in the neighborhood or local park.
“I got really busy through the years,” says Osborn, who is a one-man show with his business. “I turn down a lot of parties; swamped through June until the third week of August,” but by the time school rolls around, his business slows down.
Twenty years is a long time in running a business and with that comes a lot of favorite memories and little funny stories to share.
Osborn recalls one of his favorite moments with two brothers, ages six and eight from Hopatcong, when he first started out. These kids came running down the street out of the bathtub with no clothes on; their mom looking down the street, Osborn laughing.
“They say ‘what could I pick?’”
“I say ‘I don’t know, you don’t have any money,’” recalls Osborn. “They’re just standing there with suds,” while their mom is screaming down the street.
While he admits that “you don’t make a terrible lot,” as an ice-cream man, the experience is worth every penny. Greatest challenge is the lack of health insurance, especially when he has a family to support with his wife of 20 years, Thummee, and their son Jack, a fifth grader at Chester M. Stephens Elementary School in Budd Lake.
“Some people have jobs they don’t like but their health insurance is good,” he admits. “I have to cross my fingers that I don’t get sick.”
When he first started out he says Thummee used to go on the truck with him and help out. Her role as a mom took over.
“He’s a big ice-cream fan,” he says about his son Jack. “I’m a big ice-cream fan. Every-time I come out, he gets two or three ice-creams,” he says about his son. “Wherever he goes, he has to have ice-cream.”
When looking at this life and the business he created for himself, Osborn is happy he stayed in Mt. Olive all these years.
“I grew up here,” says Osborn. “When I got the job and started I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I knew everybody from school; you felt comfortable where you grew up.
“Mt. Olive has done a lot of improvement,” notices Osborn. “It’s a really nice place to live. They didn’t have a park [20 years ago]; they didn’t have soccer fields. The kids are lucky now.”
Turkey Brook Park, “It’s a go-to-spot to get their kids out of the house. It’s a family oriented place. The perfect place for walking, biking, Splash Pad, park, sports. They got everything here.”
As far as retiring, Osborn has no desire.
“I’m not going to retire,” he says. “If I can do it in my 70’s I’ll do it in my 70’s. This is my retirement, my truck.”
To book a party, Osborn can be reached at 973-347-8057.