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GRAY – I was standing at the front end of a 24-foot pontoon boat as it was about to pull up onto the sand in front of a vacation home on Little Sebago Lake.
A dozen or more people were lounging on the lawn, watching as the boat made contact with land. Then most of them got up and started walking toward me.
“I’ll have two of those Choco Tacos,” said one man.
“I’d like to have two Drumsticks and a Mrs. Fields Cookie Sandwich,” said a boy.
I began writing the orders down furiously on the back of a box of Klondike bars that Jake Viola, captain of the ice cream boat I was aboard, had given me.
Viola told me that on a hot day like this — almost 90 degrees when we left his camp on Lyons Point — it’s best to take all the orders first, then only open the on-board freezer once.
So I continued to write down orders: Italian ice, Blue Bunny treats, Oreo ice cream sandwiches, more Choco Tacos. More than a dozen treats in all.
Viola dug the treats out of the freezer and gave them to me a few at a time, and I handed them to happy folks on shore, who were holding onto the pontoon boat to prevent the craft from drifting back out into the lake.
The first customer paid me $5 for his two Choco Tacos. Then Kim Lefebvre of Buxton, whose family owns the camp, stepped up and said, “How much for the rest?”
My jaw dropped. I had written down orders but had no idea how much anything cost. Viola handed me the price list, but without a calculator or cash register, I was still lost.
Viola, a sophomore at Yale University, began reeling off the prices and adding things up. The total was $30.
“Will you be here all week?” Viola asked Lefebvre after collecting the money. They would be, she said. “Great, we’ll see you again. Thanks.”
Viola, 19, of South Portland, has been selling ice cream from a pontoon boat on Little Sebago all summer long, calling his business Jake’s on the Lake. His family has a one-bedroom camp on Lyons Point, so he decided it would be a great launching point for an ice cream boat business.
His parents let him sell the family speedboat, and he used the money to buy a $3,500 pontoon boat, plus a freezer. He also printed business cards, which he hands out so people can call for special deliveries or party appearances. A family once asked him to come to their lobster bake, with more than 60 guests, and sell his ice cream.
He painted a big “ice cream” sign on the side of his boat, and now cruises the lake daily while blaring music from his sound system, including the ice cream truck standard “The Entertainer,” but with a hip-hop beat.
It didn’t take him long to develop a slew of regular customers along the shores of Little Sebago, which is densely populated with camps and homes. Viola had been to Lefebvre’s often enough that as soon as we landed, the family’s black Labrador retriever hopped aboard, apparently knowing full well that Viola had Frosty Paws, a frozen dog treat made by Purina.
Viola, who hopes to enroll in a program at Yale titled Ethics, Politics and Economics, says he wants to enter politics someday, and figures selling ice cream from a boat gives him good practice talking to people.
At a couple of our stops, people were impressed with Viola’s creative entrepreneurship and thought he should be a business major.
“You go to Yale? Good for you,” said Emily Wurdemann, after buying treats at her family’s camp. “This is great that you’re doing this. Now we don’t have to run up the hill when we hear the ice cream truck.”
Besides adding up prices in my head, I found the other tough part of Viola’s job is steering the boat through the maze of docks, floats, shallow water and rocks. He let me pilot the vessel a bit. Not being a boater, I slowed down when I wanted to speed up a couple of times. I also steered into some marshy areas, with grass poking above the waterline.
At those moments, Viola jumped over to the steering console and pushed a button to raise the outboard motor so the propeller wouldn’t get tangled.
“You’re OK; I’ll just raise it up for a second,” said Viola, wearing his kitschy white captain’s hat.
The other part of the job, which I didn’t see, is when Viola goes to Walmart, just about daily, to stock up on ice cream treats.
He says he doesn’t like to spend time waiting in long lines, so he tries to buy exactly 20 cases of ice cream treats at a time and go through the “20 items or less” line.
“I used to explain to people about my business, but now when they look at me I just tell them I really like ice cream,” he said.
Three passions have come together to shape my path in life: people, the outdoors, and the great state of Maine.
At just 17 years old, I was overweight and out of energy. With the encouragement of friends and mentors, I chose an active lifestyle and never looked back.
While running, biking, and kayaking throughout Maine, I lost a lot of weight and gained even more perspective.
My journey has inspired me to bring those experiences to you. Tourists and native Mainers alike can now connect and share, creating new adventures throughout my home state.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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