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Heyl: Ice cream vendor not worried about taking rocky road into water

| Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, 10:12 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Kevin Heenan, 50, of Baldwin talks on his boat Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 about gutting it and transforming it into the Sugar and Spice Ice Cream Boat which will begin serving the sweet treat on the water beginning next spring.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Kevin and Lori Heenan talk Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 about their boat that will be gutted and transformed into the Sugar and Spice Ice Cream Boat and will begin serving the sweet treat on the water beginning next spring.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Kevin and Lori Heenan stand for a photo Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 near their boat that will be gutted and transformed into the Sugar and Spice Ice Cream Boat and will begin serving the sweet treat on the water beginning next spring.
This houseboat is about to be converted into an on-the-water ice cream shop.

Think of it as the Delta Dairy Queen.

A South Hills family hopes to translate its decades of running a thriving Baldwin Borough ice cream parlor into similar success on Pittsburgh's rivers beginning in the spring. Work is about to begin to ensure a 35-foot houseboat, in its new incarnation as the Sugar and Spice Ice Cream boat, remains seaworthy and sprinkle-worthy.

The vessel will be an offshoot of the similarly named ice cream shop and cake and candy supply store on Route 51 near Century III Mall, according to Jon Shanahan, whose family has operated it since 1984.

“We've already gotten approvals from the Coast Guard and the (Allegheny County) Health Department, who told us they think what we're doing is really cool,” said Shanahan, 24, of Whitehall. “We think we'll be up-and-running by April.”

They aren't the only mobile food vendors to see potential in the rivers. Over the summer, James Rich of Lawrenceville, who operates the popular Pittsburgh Taco Truck, announced plans to have a taco boat operational by April.

Jon Shanahan didn't disclose how much the recently purchased houseboat cost but said it was less expensive than it should have been because the boat needs considerable work. “We'll be putting a lot of sweat equity into this,” he said.

The ice cream boat will attempt to rectify one of the few obvious shortcomings of Pittsburgh's boating and kayaking scenes: Nowhere on the Allegheny, Ohio or Monongahela rivers can you conveniently get a cookie dough cone.

That should change with the ice cream parlor on the water. The plan is for the boat to be based on the Mon behind Hofbrauhaus in SouthSide Works, although Shanahan said, “If the demand is there, we could take it up and down the rivers for the regatta, Pirate games, events like that.”

Sugar and Spice began as a typical bricks-and-mortar business started by Shanahan's grandparents, Larry and Judi Heenan. It's now owned by Shanahan's mother, Kim Shanahan, and her brother, Keith Heenan.

Three years ago, the family decided to tap into the city's burgeoning mobile food culture and put the Sugar and Spice Truck on the road. It travels to businesses, farmers markets, festivals and fundraisers. Given the increasing popularity of the city's waterways, Jon Shanahan views the ice cream boat as a potentially profitable extension of the truck, despite the seasonal nature of the business.

“My family has been on the river since the '70s, and my mom and I have a boat down at the South Side Marina,” he said. “Every time we go around The Point or are water skiing, we notice kayaker after kayaker and kayaker. There's just so much more activity on the rivers since they cleaned them up.”

Can the ice cream boat make money? We'll have to wait for the answer to that and another important question regarding this unique venture.

How do you hold on to a cookie dough cone while jet skiing?

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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