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Sunday, April 22 News

Ludlowe teachers mix ice cream with classroom

Stefanie and Pat Cole have applied their entrepreneurial spirit to the ice cream truck they own, concentrating on events where they can park for several hours and let the customers come to them.

"It's a more efficient use of our time than driving up and down neighborhood streets for hours," Stefanie Cole said.

The couple, both teachers at Fairfield Ludlowe High, studied several franchise opportunities before deciding to go it alone and open the business, Milford Soft Serve.

Although the truck can occasionally be found trolling for customers at local beaches, the couple does most business at corporate events, farmers markets, fundraisers -- even children's birthday parties.

"People are amazed to find how affordable it is," Stefanie Cole said. "We'll build a unique package for each customer that fits their budget. If it's local, or if we have another event nearby, we don't charge a set-up fee.''

Local means the Coles' hometown of Milford, where they hold a vendors permit. Although they will travel an hour or more to some events, it can cost less than $100 to have the truck at a private party in Milford, the Coles said, a price point that puts it in the same neighborhood as a bounce house or a pony to give rides to partygoers.

Pat is from Staten Island, N.Y., where he said ice cream trucks are ubiquitous, and the couple discussed buying a Mister Softee franchise. That popular soft serve company has more than 600 trucks and 350 dealers spread across 15 states, including New York and Connecticut.

"What you get with a franchise, basically, is a route and a brand name," Stefanie Cole said. "Our business is individually owned, and we can sell any brand. We have Good Humor novelties and we have character-face ice pops that kids love. Adults like the soft serve; it's nostalgic."

Their menu is much larger than a typical ice cream truck and includes malts, floats, milkshakes, sundaes with a variety of toppings and cups and cones with hard shell dips and free sprinkles. The Coles also carry Frosty Paws, a non-dairy frozen treat for pets.

"We added the character faces, including Spiderman and SpongeBob, when kids kept asking for them last summer," Stefanie Cole said. There are also snow cones, ice cream sandwiches, ices and something called the Razzle, which is billed as a "frozen explosion" and is the most expensive item, at $5.

They recently did the four-night Quaker Farms Fire Department Carnival in Oxford, and among their bookings later this summer is Walnut Beach Day on Aug. 3.

"We like doing events because we know what we're showing up for," said Stefanie Cole, a native of New Fairfield. Pat Cole is a graduate of Fairfield University, and the couple brought their ice cream truck to his college reunion.

Stefanie Cole graduated from Western Connecticut State University and got her master's degree in education and a master's degree in business administration from Sacred Heart University.

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The couple met at Fairfield Ludlowe and got to know each other while coaching girls basketball at Weston High. Stefanie Cole teaches business at Ludlowe, and Pat Cole teaches English.

None of their students has come up to their truck to buy ice cream, so far. "They keep threatening to, but it hasn't happened yet," Stefanie Cole said.

They operate the ice cream truck on evenings and weekends during the school year, in May, June and September, and full time during the summer.

"There's not a lot of room in the truck, and I'm six months pregnant, so right now, Pat is taking the truck out and I'm running the business end from home," Stefanie Cole said.

The Coles can be reached at www.milfordsoftserve.com, or 203-283-9410.

fjuliano@ctpost.com, www.twitter.com/FrankJuliano

Frank Juliano|AM/Digital Breaking News Reporter