Visitor’s to Lake Conroe can grab a cold treat from the an ice cream boat. Photo courtesy of the Conroe Ice Cream Boat

It was a typical blistering hot summer day last year at Lake Conroe Park when the idea came to Ryan and Brittney Stirpe. Sitting southside of the park, the couple, who were engaged at the time, were feeling “woefully unprepared” for the heat and humidity. “We started talking about how great it would be to have ice cream right about now,” Ryan recalls, “and then we’re looking out at the lake and Brittney says, ‘It would be even cooler if an ice cream boat pulled up right now.'”

A little on-the-spot research led to a surprising and fateful discovery: Though ice cream boats have a presence in states like Florida and Michigan, there were none to be found in the state of Texas. And thus, a bold business idea took hold.

In March, the couple launched The Original Conroe Ice Cream Boat and started selling prepackaged ice creams, snacks, and sodas on Lake Conroe, about an hour north of Houston. And as the new company’s name suggests, the mode of transporting the treats is via a 20-foot Bennington pontoon boat, which grabs the attention of locals and visitors while making stops at spots all around the lake, including Party Cove, Ayers Island, and community parks and pools.

The Stirpes kept their ice cream boat plans close to the chest at first, working for nearly 10 months on planning and research, securing funding, buying and renovating a boat, obtaining permits and licenses, and dealing with insurance carriers before getting the word out about their aquatic ice cream shop. And there were hurdles, Ryan says, but they were to be expected when you’re the first of your kind. “It was a lot of starting from scratch on things like how you classify this with the health department, because it’s like a food truck, but it’s not a food truck,” he says. “We went back and forth for months on things like that, but once we got all that figured out, we were off to the races.”

As for the setup: the couple stripped the seats out of a gently used pontoon boat bought from Texas Marine and in their place installed two Insignia deep freezers that collectively can house around 1,000 ice cream treats from brands like Blue Bunny, Blue Ribbon Classics, and Popsicle. Perusing the menu, you’ll also find a mix of familiar favorites and some surprising delights, like orange creamsicles, Bomb Pops, Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches—all of which are sourced from Houston-based vendor Southern Ice Cream.

The freezers are powered by a surprisingly quiet propane generator installed on the back of the boat, and two Igloo coolers sit near the front, cooling the drinks and chocolate products, but the big hit on this vessel is indeed the ice cream. Come summer, Ryan projects they’ll be selling about 200 to 300 ice cream units per day.

The couple conquers Lake Conroe in sections over the weekend and operates the venture themselves in matching shirts and straw hats, having fine-tuned a system of numbering the ice creams by freezer trays, which makes choosing from the over 20 choices efficient and easy. Ryan takes the orders and collects payment, while Brittney hands the customer their sweets. “We practiced for months because we know when summer comes there’s absolutely no room for error,” Brittney says. “We already have people asking us about July 4, so we know it’s coming.” The couple also take turns steering the boat around the lake, and customers can track the boat’s stops from a live tracker throughout the day.

Though the couple has been out on the water for over a month now—they took off one weekend to get married—they’re already seeing a profound response, as witnessed on April 14 when the ice cream boat stopped at an RV park before docking at a gathering in the Rancho Escondido neighborhood. A crowd had already formed waiting for the boat. Kids and adults feasted on Spiderman and Powder Puff Girls-themed pops, ice cream sandwiches, and cones, and enthused over the local business bringing old-fashioned nostalgia and sweetness right to their waters.

Beverly Greig, a Conroe resident of over 10 years who set up the ice cream social, says she first noticed the business on social media and reached out to the Stirpes to have them stop by at their get-together. “I’m a believer in supporting local,” Greig says. “I look at it this way: Anyone can go to a Chili’s or McDonald’s, but there are only so many places in Lake Conroe that have local roots, and we should support them so they can stick around.”

That immediate response from the community is why Lake Conroe visitors are likely to hear that familiar ice cream melody, along with bouts of Taylor Swift and classic rock, playing near their shores for the foreseeable future. “When you pull up to a dock or a cove and someone says, ‘Oh, I heard about you from such and such or I saw you on social media,’ that’s really boosting our spirits to know the good news is spreading,” Brittney says.

“Seeing the excitement on both kids’ and adults’ faces is a real moment for us,” Ryan adds. “People get nostalgic, and you can tell it brings them right back to their childhood.”

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