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Petaluma Ice Cream Entrepreneur Calling It Quits

Molly Campbell wanted to recreate a simple childhood pleasure with her ice cream truck. But faced with a small market and many regulations, she now has no choice but to fold her business.

 

2011 was a difficult year for Molly Campbell.

Recently divorced and mourning the end of her marriage, she was thrown for a loop when her best friend died from leukemia. It was Campbell's fourth close friend to pass away in less than a decade.

One night, Campbell had a dream.

In it, she was riding a bicycle when she came upon a Good Humor ice cream truck. The vision was something out of “Leave It to Beaver,” and when Campbell woke up, she was awash with a feeling of nostalgia and purpose.

She would start a traveling ice cream truck and be what the Good Humor Man was for a generation of American children, spreading cheer and creamy goodness wherever she went.

“It was clear I needed to reconnect with joy, after so much loss,” says Campbell. “I had grown up in Detroit jumping up and down for ice cream and I wanted to recreate that.”

She bought a used ice cream truck on Craigslist and decorated it with magenta and pink stripes and a purple cow.

Molly Moo’s was a hit right away.

Kids came running and even grumpy old men would get a pep in their step upon seeing her roll up, playing Beatles tunes from open windows.

But operating a food truck proved to be much more difficult that Campbell ever imagined. She had wanted to sell soft-serve ice cream, but that required running water and would cost additional money, so she stuck to pre-packaged popsicles and ice cream bars.

She tried to sell at local farmers’ markets, but since her product was not homemade, she had a hard time getting permission to set up. Then, there were different licenses that needed to be obtained, and then renewed every four months which put a significant dent into her profit margin.

“I am too old to be chased away by the cops and I can’t continue to live off my retirement any more,” Campbell said recently.

Over the weekend, she took to her Facebook page to announce that Molly Moo’s was closing, unless she could find a partner willing to invest money into the business.

“It makes me so sad...I had the desire to bring back something simple and old fashioned that had magic to it, and make people smile and I think I accomplished that, only for a short while. But most people have no clue how expensive it is to run this sort of business.”

Campbell's dream had come true, but sustaining it was a whole other matter. Families and wineries would book her for events, only to back out at the last minute. When she tried to set up at high school games, she was told she was parked in the red zone.

Still, she says, chasing the dream was worth it.

“I've never felt so good about delivering smiles, as I did doing Molly Moo’s. The truck, the ice cream, the music. It was pure magic.”

Campbell is actively seeking a buyer for her truck or a business partner to continue the venture. If you'd like to contact her, email her at mollycampbell5@gmail.com

Darris November 20, 2012 at 02:16 AM
It's not just this type of business that's expensive to maintain, running a business in Sonoma County is expensive and getting more difficult everyday. The county tacks on fees for every detail. Big corporations get a lot of slack while small entrepreneurs are nickeled and dimed. It's really a shame. Sorry to hear you're packing it up Molly. You gave away smiles with your ice cream and you can feel good about that . . .
Gisele Rue November 20, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Very sad to hear this, it is the cleanest truck in town, once you saw this truck you didn't want your children to buy from the dirty Vallejo trucks in town. I hope she finds someone to help her with her finances and marketing so I can see this LOCAL business with her joyful truck bring smiles to all for more years to come.
mikeg55 November 20, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I never saw Molly's ice cream truck. But I have enjoyed that 1950's red white and blue ice cream truck going around the neighborhoods on the east side since I was kid. And now my kids do too. And then there is an arab guy who has an ice cream truck that stops by at the playgrounds and athletic fields on the eastside. he's good to.
Jenna Jay November 20, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I don't want to sound harsh or mean, as this was her dream and I understand it's difficult to see it not succeed. BUT, I can't help but wonder how many of these struggling small businesses put together a cohesive business plan before investing their money? Having a dream is one thing, but dreams won't necessarily sustain you. You have to have do the leg work, the research and put together a business & marketing plan to even have a chance of succeeding. Seems like a lot of small businesses that go under decide to start their dream business but know little or nothing about running a business. She should have known before spending a penny on this business exactly how much fees, permits and operating costs would be, she should have known how much she'd have to make every month to make a profit, and she certainly should have evaluated the local market for ice cream and taken her competitors into the equation. Frozen treats/ice cream is a highly saturated and competitive market, you really have to be innovative to make a profit in that type of industry.
Karen November 20, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Molly comes by Heritage Salvage on Fridays. She will be missed. Summer will not be the same without her! No more Beatles. Bummer!!!!
Dave Thomas November 21, 2012 at 06:38 AM
The best part of Molly Moos was Molly herself! The town loses a unique and happy business. I wish her good fortune in all future endeavors! Molly is a Winner with a heart of Gold. Dave

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