Kirstin Cole, WPIX, Reporting, Courtesy CNN
NEW YORK, New York — Mister Softee is the original ice cream truck guy in New York, but now plenty of start ups are swirling around them. They’re saying Softee isn’t playing nice though, with tough guys throwing punches, vandalizing trucks and making lots of threats.
“He attacked me,” says Figen Arseven, as she points to the spot on her jaw where a big Mister Softee vendor landed a punch after she chased him away from her YoGo truck in Herald Square. She says the thug was trying to rip off her vendor permit, which would effectively shut her down. I fall down and, and I’m calling for the police. I was screaming, I was yelling.”
Three times this summer Arseven says Mister Softee thugs attacked her or her husband Bulent and their YoGo Frozen Yogurt truck parked at Herald Square. She says the thugs told her it was their turf, and she needed to find another spot to sell her frozen yogurt with fresh toppings.
As she pointed to four broken windows smashed by a hammer wielding Softee woman, she told me how they attacked her truck further. “They put sand in the oil tank and ruined the motor. Three weeks my husband sits home, no work.”
The broken windows, sabotaged engine and three weeks of lost work have cost them $15,000. NYPD Detectives have plate numbers of the Softee trucks and private vehicles, but so far, after months, no arrests have been made.
“Instead of trying to compete with us with products, they’re trying to use violence and threats,” summed up Tommy Ballis, one of the founders of YoGo. A former Mister Softee seller himself, he said he ditched Softee for a fresher approach and in two years has grown his business to 50 trucks today, a small serving compared with Mister Softee’s 500 trucks. Tommy says Softee’s high franchise fees and royalties have the drivers feeling the heat in the cool treat biz, resorting to Mafia style threats to keep YoGo and others off their turf.
“They say, ‘Leave this corner or we’re gonna beat you up.’ They think they own the streets,” explains Ballis.
Other truck owners say they too have been threatened by Softee Tough guys saying all of Midtown from 34th to 65th street is Softee-only stomping grounds.
Mandi Fowewe says she sold Softee treats for 18 years, but ditched the sweet treat seller when they got too greedy, and now makes more cold hard cash with YoGo. But she says other midtown Softee drivers aren’t happy for her newfound success. “They’re just threatening. Bullying. Trying to kick me out. I’m trying to make money.”
Nike Olasokan is a former Softee vendor too, moving to YoGo after 24 years. “I’m very scared because they’re very bad they can have knife, they can have gun, i don’t know.”
Mike Khalil, who owns three “Dollar Truck” ice cream trucks, says he pulled one out of Union Square after Mister Softee tough guys came calling. He moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn, only to face the same heat over ice cream. Now he’s getting smart. “I’m going to start putting video tape, video cameras in my trucks so my drivers don’t get arrested for stuff they don’t do.”
Mister Softee wouldn’t answer to the charges on camera; so we went to the front lines and found a truck parked along Central Park South outside the Plaza Hotel. Gary Andrew denies he’s ever handed out any heavy handed harassment. As for other Softee drivers? “I haven’t heard nothing like that.”