Weathermen say it’s 45 degrees outside, but as we trek through the Meadows in search of the elusive Desert Chill ice cream van we’re beginning to have doubts. It feels hotter, much hotter. Just when we start dreaming of jumping into a pool of icy water, there it is: an ice cream van, in Dubai.
An ice cream van? In Dubai? When Dan Furlong visited his parents in the emirate more than a year ago, he felt that the place was missing something: malls, check; beaches, check; skyscrapers, check; ice cream vans? Sadly not.
‘I asked a few friends if they’d ever seen an ice cream van and they said, funnily enough, they hadn’t. So I did some research and found that no one had started an ice cream van business here. I saw a niche in the market and as I already wanted to have a family business, my brother Nathan and I decided to go ahead.’
The siblings spent nine months setting up, applying for the necessary permits, finding the right van, fixing it up and selling their concept. The main hurdle, as it turns out, was explaining the concept to people who had no experience of this quintessentially British childhood obsession. Nevertheless, eight months after their venture finally got off the ground, the Furlong brothers have an established customer base, most of which are still fascinated by the idea.
‘There is an initial shock factor. We often get people who approach the van and ask what this is all about,’ says Dan, whose van rings out that quintessentially British tune, ‘Greensleeves’ as it wheels around the dusty Dubai streets.
Dan informs us that the song dates back to the times of Henry VIII, a king who is principally famous for his habit of beheading his wives. Not a very pleasant connection, we start to think, as he explains that, for some reason, many ice cream vans in England play this song as their signature tune. Apart from their homage to tradition (or psychotic kings), they do have other music: ‘The van’s got over 60 tunes. We’ve even got a happy birthday tune so when we go to children’s parties the van plays the happy birthday music,’ he says.
We wonder if it’s possible for an environment to be too hot for an ice cream van. Does the Dubai weather interfere with a concept meant for a comparably breezy British countryside? ‘No, it’s not a problem at all,” says Dan. ‘Obviously we’ve got everything in place to deal with heat in terms of van conversion. And, as you said, it’s hot. It’s the perfect treat for someone to cool down.’
While Desert Chill currently roams all the Emaar and Nakheel properties, the brothers are now moving in on the streets of the capital. ‘We’ve got quite a big footprint’ says Dan with a grin. With three vans, the brothers still drive a few times during the week and plan to keep on with it, even when they have more vans and drivers. ‘My brother and I have always taken an active role in the business, and it’s also good to keep in touch with our customers,’ Dan tells us, clearly with pride.
They’re also looking at producing their own brand of ice cream, featuring the firm’s logo – a camel licking a cone. Dan explains, ‘I wanted to create a brand that was culturally sensitive. Also, I wanted to create something that I could take across the Middle East. So the van is going to go anywhere there are camels and deserts.’ Desert Chill is also launching a home delivery service, where you can order packs of ice cream, ice cream cakes, normal cakes and desserts, which they will deliver to your house or office. As Dan says, ‘Instead of them melting when you buy it at a supermarket, we send it in a freezer truck right to your door.’
On behalf of our editor, we ask: do they sell a 99 with two flakes, sprinkles and syrup on top? Dan and Nathan chuckle and say they do sell something along similar lines. ‘Yeah, tell him to come along and ask us for a 99,’ says Dan.
As the van drives off with its chilly and welcome treats, we stand there watching it disappear with music blaring from its speakers, clutching our Magnum Classic.
Desert Chill (050 612 2108).