Packwood’s new “Ice Cream Airstream” was supposed to have a soft opening last week. Parked in front of Sip and Stitch, Sean Schwalbe wanted his first day slinging scoops to be a low-key event for the yarn store’s knitting group.
But things didn’t go to plan.
“I opened the front to clean the glass. When I turned around, there was a line of people, and it just didn’t stop until around 9:30,” Schwalbe said this week, standing inside his shiny new digs.
Packwood’s new ice cream man was hoping to be open four days straight, but the town soon licked through all 72 gallons of frozen goodness. Schwalbe was forced to cut the week short.
It’s evidence of how much Packwood needed an ice cream vendor.
“I personally realized that as soon as I moved here,” said Schwalbe, who left California last year to move to the unincorporated town, surrounded by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “There’s no ice cream here. Nowhere to get a good hand-scoop, especially in a waffle cone. It just wasn’t here.”
Schwalbe met up with The Chronicle on his day off, opening up the retro Airstream just to snap a few photos. But within minutes, groups of locals wandered up in search of a sweet treat under the sun. Turning them away visibly pained the new business owner.
When Shayla Dollar brought two kiddos up, eager for a taste, Schwalbe just couldn’t let them down, sending them on their way with some on-the-house dishes.
Will Dollar and her family become regulars?
“Oh, I’m sure,” she told The Chronicle. “I think the pizza place used to have ice cream. It was hit or miss. I don’t even know if they do it anymore. We definitely needed an ice cream guy.”
Schwalbe spent the winter selling ski tickets at White Pass, and picked up the classic aluminum camper in December. It wasn’t quite smooth sailing from then.
On a basic level, square appliances just aren’t meant for a bean-shaped trailer.
“It was extremely challenging fitting everything to this. Everything’s round,” Schwalbe said with a laugh. “What’s the saying, ‘jack of all trades, master of none?’ That definitely applies here … I’ve never done anything like this before, certainly not in food service. So it’s been a learning experience. A fun one.”
The new Packwood resident said he was determined to set up shop in an Airstream, despite its challenges. That’s partially because of the cool look — taken up a notch by his homemade “ICECREAM” marquee — and partially because “Ice Cream Airstream” has a certain ring to it.
While much of the work was a labor of love by Schwalbe, he also credits friends in the tight-knit Packwood business community.
Alexander Gerhard and Rebekah Velasco, of the Courageous Crow flower shop, gave Schwalbe a spot to park the Airstream and helped with woodwork. Grey Francis, of Trillium Tattoo, contributed chalkboard art.
Business is booming now, and the Ice Cream Airstream may even end up traveling to local events. But cooler weather could usher in an off-season. Schwalbe isn’t sure if he’ll keep scooping through the winter in hopes that hungry snowboarders will grab a cone despite the weather, or maybe shift gears and transform into a hot cocoa van.
For now, patrons can expect seven rotating ice cream flavors, plus one sorbet or dairy-free option — all from Olympic Mountain Ice Cream, the family-owned producer based out of Shelton. Schwalbe also makes almond-y, vanilla-y waffle cones from scratch every morning.
The decision to go with Olympia Mountain came after careful taste-testing. What sounds like the best part of the job “was a lot of work, actually,” Schwalbe said.
“I bought samples from Olympic Mountain, and I knew immediately,” he said. “I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. I’m an ice cream guy. And it’s just really good.”
The tricky part, however, is that not many ice cream companies deliver to Packwood — perhaps one reason why the community was lacking in vendors.
To get the 3-gallon tubs into Packwood, Schwalbe packs his pickup truck with a massive cooler and makes the four hour round-trip to the Olympia Peninsula. With 87 gallons currently in the Airstream, he hopes to satisfy Packwood’s sweet tooth this week.
Location: 102 E. Main St., Packwood
Hours: noonish to 8ish, Thursday through Sunday