Ever since he was a child, Barath Jaiyanth from Chennai felt fascinated by ice cream trucks depicted in the cartoons and shows. He loved their bright colours and how children would come spilling onto the streets every time they heard the jingle of a truck pulling up. He dreamt that if he ever started his own business, it would entail selling ice cream.
Barath, now 32, realised his dream through his startup, The Tickle Truck. It sells unique popsicles and ice creams in a dozen flavours, including sugarcane, jamun, boondi buttermilk, strawberry, gajar halwa and mojito. The food truck has become popular and people visit from all corners of the city to try out the dessert.
Interestingly, Barath is a graduate in visual communication and does not have any background in dessert making. He is an actor, who has featured in around 30 films and television serials. “What I was doing was entirely different, but the thought of having an ice cream business never went away. One day in 2018, after completing an assignment in video production, I decided to quit and pursue my dream,” he says.
Barath shared his idea of starting an ice cream business with his college friend, Jesvin Prabhu. “Coincidently, Jesvin and his friend Shanmuga Pandian had also attempted to start a food business a few years ago. However, it never materialised. So all of us decided to start something together,” he says.
Not your regular ice cream
The trio began by taking lessons in ice cream-making on YouTube. “We did not want to be another conventional ice cream startup. To stand out, we shortlisted savoury-fruit flavours. We also consulted a chef, Kaushik Shankar, to help with the recipes,” he tells The Better India.
Barath says that in 2019, they took a loan of Rs 12 lakh, and set up shop on Besant Nagar beach. “Initially, people found the flavours to be different, and were sceptical. But we had faith in our product, and it eventually became a hit. Now customers have a difficult time in choosing their favourite flavour,” Barath says.
Barath says that Tickly Truck has been named so because the popsicles leave a tingling sensation due to their savoury-sweet taste. “I wanted to highlight the unique aspect of the product,” he adds.
The popsicles and ice creams cost anywhere between Rs 30 and Rs 70. The food truck positions itself between 5 pm and 10 pm every day, except on Mondays. Barath says the business generates around Rs 2 lakh in sales a month, and profits are of about Rs 60,000. “Prices are kept affordable, allowing customers to try at least one or more flavours at once. At the same time, we did not want to bite into our profits. So the prices are carefully balanced,” he says.
Dream come true
Jesvin says setting up the business came with its challenges. “We faced many difficulties in seeking permissions from authorities. Selling food in trucks is a new concept in Chennai, unlike in other cities, where it has become a common business practice. Hence, convincing authorities was difficult,” he adds.
The co-founder says that additionally, the food truck has no access to electricity. “The hurdle limits our business timings. The desserts have a shelf-life of six hours before they start melting. However, we are trying to open a brick and mortar outlet that would allow more operating hours,” he adds.
Jesvin says that apart from permissions, the venture also faced hindrances from competitors in the neighbourhood, who said their business was being affected by Tickle Truck. “A challenge will always present itself. You have to understand and overcome it. It is a learning process,” he adds.
Barath says he is enjoying his new life as an entrepreneur. “I loved working in the media industry, but this venture is my passion, and my baby. Running a franchisee is different from conceiving a product from scratch. Customers praise the dessert and claim that they travel 20-40 km at times to have our ice cream. That satisfying feeling is what we live for,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu