When Floridians see a double-decker bus cruising down the highway, they can probably guess it's full of tourists on a guided tour to Florida attractions.
But not Stefan Cerf. The 23-year-old Pinellas County resident looks at a double-decker and sees an opportunity for a food truck / outdoor cafe experience oozing "cool'' -- as in tropical cool or Tropiccool.
That's the name of his new creation, the Tropiccool brand of refreshing handmade, dairy-free and vegan friendly Tropsicles. He serves them out of a renovated vintage double-decker bus with a top level lounge area complete with umbrellas.
You can find him parked most often in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg, where he lives and plans to set up a retail shop. Frequently on weekdays and weekends, you can find the bus out and about in Tampa Bay at events, festivals, private parties and fundraisers.
Cerf came up with the idea for Tropiccool
after spending three summers in France working at Ernest Le Glacier, his godfather's ice cream shop, where he became acquainted with preparing and selling desserts, and operating the business.
The Ernest Le Glacier
brand is known in France for its amazing 110 ice cream flavors and waffles cones, has been named among the country's top small businesses and is ranked among its top three ice cream shops.
Cerf, a graduate of the University of Central Florida
, wasn't planning to get into the business until his godfather offered up the famous recipes for Cerf to reinvent for Tampa Bay. Cerf turned to his father, Olivier, for advice and was met with great support. In fact, his father was the inspiration for the double-decker bus concept because, "he always wanted one,'' says Cerf.
Family business is something that Cerf has been surrounded by growing up. In fact, his godfather's brother is the person behind the famous recipes from France. And his father and grandfather, Alain, have their own product packaging business, Polypack Inc.
of Pinellas Park, in Tampa Bay. Cerf humbly says, "I could not do this without my father.''
Not afraid to fail, Cerf used his business degree to negotiate a $150,000 bank loan to cover the cost of the bus and equipment needed to prepare the Tropsicles. "It's not easy for a 23-year-old to walk into a bank and pitch a plan for a loan in today's economy,'' says Cerf.
It was a combination of a proven business in France, the support of his family and his hard work and dedication that convinced BBT Bank to invest in him. With a literal "recipe'' for success, Cerf says he knew he had to have top-of-the-line equipment to achieve a product that is high quality and reflects the hard work of his godfather.
St. Petersburg's Grand Central District
Cerf chose St. Petersburg's Grand Central District for his kitchen, housing and retail location because, "It is really up and coming.'' Currently the space is in three parts, a front retail shop, a back area with a kitchen to prepare his Tropsicles and a loft where he lives. The retail space is being rented out for the time being so that Cerf can focus on building the success of the Tropiccool bus.
"Even though I don't have a storefront now, one will be coming soon,'' says Cerf.
Many local businesses are excited for the fresh energy new businesses like Cerf's bring to the neighborhood.
"Every time I drive through, there is a new restaurant or store that I didn't see before,'' says Lindsay Trensch, a Founding Member of freeFall Theater
in the Grand Central District
. Trensch helped pick the site for freeFall's now fully renovated theater when they were searching for a location 3-4 years ago.
"The City of St Petersburg is very supportive of the arts and the area,'' says Trensch. "We are very happy with the location and look forward to the growth in the area.''
Cerf and Trensch both feel the local city government is supportive of their new ventures and they look forward to all the new businesses that will set up shop nearby.
Keep Up With Tropiccool
Cerf spends his days driving the bus to different businesses, food truck rallies or anywhere he believes he can sell some product. He spends his slow days and nights preparing the goods he plans to sell. Adding family recipes to those from his godfather, he crafted a menu that is designed to entice repeat customers.
The current offering is made up of a collection of interesting and unique flavors from Mediterranean Orange to Wild Raspberry and Lemon Basil to Coconut Chip. One of his personal recipes that is most proud of is Pineapple Mojito. Pops with a chocolate coating sell for $3.50 or you can pick up a pink for $5.
Cerf and the Tropiccool bus can be found weekly at Gulfport's Tuesday Fresh Market
and monthly at the Mayor's Food Truck Fiesta
in downtown Tampa's Lykes Gaslight Square Park
For $150 an hour, Cerf will also show up at your private party or business luncheon. Email him directly
with any inquiries.
Also, mark your calendars for August 31 when the, "World's Largest Food Truck Rally,'
' takes over the Florida Fairgrounds because not only with Cerf be bringing his bus, but he is also hosting Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on a drive through downtown Tampa to rally support.
Ryan Sullivan is a Tampa Bay enthusiast, always searching for new topics to cover on his blog, Never Have I Ever. When not out on the town, he is supporting local startups. By day he is a Brand Manager and Product Development Executive for As Seen On TV, Inc. NHIE was created in 2012 by Friends Nicholas Catania, Robert Mainelli, Ryan Sullivan and Allison Vetter. The focus of the blog is to "create awareness of all the unique, random and amazing happenings going on in the Tampa Bay Area.'' Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.