Nashville Gem: Blue Monkey Shaved Ice
It’s summer in Nashville. Temperatures are in the 90’s and it’s 60% humidity. You’ve just spent the day outside, working your 9-5, or sitting in the stagnant Nashville traffic… now your only want is an ice cold treat.
You know that craving. But what if there wasn’t anything? What if in all of Nashville, there was no place to satisfy that itch?
That’s exactly the situation that gave Dave Wong the idea to start Blue Monkey Shaved Ice back in 2011… but before we get into that story…
This Friday, September 9th, we’re partnering with Blue Monkey to give away 160 shaved ices. Any flavor. Any toppings. Stop by from 2pm-6pm in the parking lot of Imogene and Willie’s!
Okay… back to Dave.
Tell us how Blue Monkey got started.
The summer of 2011 was our official start. I was waiting tables at The Cheesecake Factory, had been doing that for four years, and I had just been saving money. One day after work I wanted a shaved ice and there was nowhere to get one… so I said, “That’s what I’m going to do.”
I took the money I had saved up and made it happen. Thought I would figure the rest out as I went.
The crazy thing is that this was back before there were food trucks in Nashville. We were one of the first four food trucks — that whole scene was just getting started. They hadn’t even written any of the rules or laws for it, so everyone was learning as we went. It was an interesting time back then.
Wow, so was it hard getting started?
I quit my job in the middle of summer that year, thinking that in about a month I would be up and running and I’d have the whole summer to go. But I ended up struggling to get the paperwork done and the locations secured, so it was probably closer to the end of the summer that I was able to get up and running. I had lost the entire summer.
The lesson there was that no matter how much you plan, there will always be things you are unaware of that you have to adapt to and figure out as you go. You can never be perfectly planned.
We worked with Dallas from Hoss’s Loaded Burgers, he said you two worked closely to set the scene in those early days?
Yes, we did. Our hope was to make sure the city didn’t say “Alright, food trucks aren’t allowed at all.” It was interesting, but, obviously, now we are very well embraced, but really at that time we weren’t sure. Not only where we were going to be allowed to be, but IF we were going to be allowed to be.
What is the hardest part of running Blue Monkey Shaved Ice?
The hours you have to put into it. When you’re small, you don’t have the staff. I still work on the truck every single day — working as much as I can, and as I need to, to make sure everything gets done.
Some weekends you don’t sleep more than 5 or 6 hours, but it’s worth it in the long run.
My job is to make people happy. The job I have now — you never have a customer that is unhappy. It makes for such a great work environment. That’s probably my favorite thing about the job.
How has the Blue Monkey changed over the past 6 years?
We’ve grown consistently every year since I’ve been in business. Now we have a staff of about 6-10 people. It’s been cool to see that.
We’ve started in a rickety old trailer towed behind an F-150, and now we have 2 trucks and a vintage camper. We’ve grown considerably, and we get so much positive feedback. It feels great knowing that something you’ve poured your heart and soul into is appreciated.
Nashville has really embraced the food truck scene — do you feel like the community supports you?
There are a lot of great local businesses that we work with, and that’s been a great resource.
Every Sunday we’re set up at Imogene + Willie, they make custom jeans, they let us come out there every single Sunday. It’s our weekly location. Just local businesses supporting other local businesses. There are a couple others like that; White’s Mercantile and Friedman’s Army Navy Surplus. Those are local businesses that want to support other local businesses and they would let us set up in their parking lot without any charge or anything.
Also, we’re a member of The Food Truck Association. So, we’re friends with a lot of food trucks. We all work together.
If you could go back 20 years, what financial advice would you give yourself?
I wish I could even just go back 5 years and buy a bunch of real estate in Nashville!
Seriously, though, I’ve always been pretty decent with money. I was brought up that way, and never really spent money on anything extravagant. I don’t have any luxurious items. It wasn’t even until very recently that I bought a flat screen T.V.
So, I would say don’t blow your money. Invest it wisely. If you were to look at all the money you spend in a year on going out to eat — look at what you could invest that in. See what you could do to get returns on that money.
What about the best financial advice you’ve ever been given?
Never buy a new car. Always buy used. Even with the 100’s of food trucks in town, I can only think of 1 or 2 that were bought brand new. Pretty much every truck is used.
The ones I’ve bought, and I’ve probably had 5 over the years, all of them have been used trucks and I’ve built them out myself. There was a learning curve. I’m not a carpenter or mechanic, but with YouTube you can basically learn anything.
Luckily, our truck is a lot smaller than most other trucks. Which is great because we can fit into more spaces — like if someone wanted us to come to their house we could do that. There is a lot less as far as build out goes.
If it wasn’t for the paycheck, what would you be doing?
Hrm… being a professional golfer would be pretty cool. I don’t play often because I’m working, but I love getting out there.
Hard to say, everything gets old after a while. There are a lot of great things I would be interested in doing, but I’d need variety.
Want to learn more about Blue Monkey Shaved Ice? Check out their web page. Or, come try them for yourself! Join us this Friday, September 9th, from 12-4 in the parking lot of Imogene & Willie’s.