OWATONNA — Much like the neon sign, the diner, and the roadside motel, the ice cream truck is a piece of quintessential Americana.
Just a generation ago, most everyone likely had a memory of chasing down at least one ice cream truck or two, but as times change it seems the tasty frozen treats of the “good ol’ days” are becoming harder and harder to come by.
That was until a couple of years ago, when Trina Rios could no longer ignore the invites and pleas to bring her happiness on wheels known as Sunny’s Ice Cream to Owatonna.
“Driving around ice cream doesn’t bring in a big profit margin, there was already a Kona Ice in Owatonna, and it costs $100 to get into town,” said Rios, who started taking the Austin-based ice cream truck to small towns around southern Minnesota in 2016. “But I kept getting messages from people in Owatonna, so I figured I would give it a chance for at least one year.”
Despite the fact that Rios first brought her ice cream truck to Owatonna in the later part of the summer in 2017, she was blown away by the welcome wagon she was greeted with.
“It was amazing,” she exclaimed. “It just kind of took off right away, and so we stuck with it.”
Now that summer vacation has officially started, Rios brings Sunny’s Ice Cream to Owatonna every Thursday and Saturday. On Thursdays she starts in the southeast part of town and works her way up north, but on Saturday’s she is happy to go wherever she is called.
“People will message me on Facebook asking me to come to a certain neighborhood because a lot of kids are there, and I am more than willing to do that,” Rios said, adding that Owatonna is a pretty big town for just one ice cream truck to cover. “After all, I’m here for the kids.”
Rios said that not even cold ice cream on a hot summer day can compare to joy she feels as kids jump with excitement to the sound of her truck’s music. From rushing across a playground to rolling down a hill, Rios has seen every form of pure glee from the kids she serves.
“I had one little girl tell me that for Christmas all she wanted was a box of push-ups, because that’s what the ice cream lady always gives her,” Rios laughed. “I love hearing stories like that.”
Rios invites everyone to follow her on Facebook at “Sunny’s ICE Cream.” She will post updates on when she will be in town, though she plans to see her Owatonna friends every Thursday and Saturday throughout the summer.
“I try to stay consistent by keeping the same days in each town every week,” Rios said. “We are cash-based, and a lot of people don’t carry around cash these days, so if they know an ice cream truck is coming to town they can be ready.”
Being the local “Ice Cream Lady” for Owatonna is a title that Rios is extremely happy to have, adding that the community has been a sweet delight to serve.
“I just can’t thank the people of Owatonna enough for inviting us, especially since I wasn’t originally going to come here,” she said. “The welcome they have given us and nice everyone is has been overwhelming. We just really appreciate their business.”