By: Naz Akyol
June 24, 2016
Three years ago, active duty airman Michael Gnoato lost his life in a fatal car accident in Wyoming. Major Pettaway, a Marine who knew Mikey since high school, missed the funeral because he was deployed in Afghanistan at the time, but Navy Seabee Sadam Salas was there to speak at their best friend’s funeral. Now, Major and Sadam prepare for the July 1st grand opening of their new business venture: The two young men are the co-founders (as well as CEO and CFO, respectively) of Mike’s Ice, a deliciously novel idea that pays tribute to their fallen friend, and also a social enterprise committed to fighting veteran homelessness and more.
Sadam and Major have worked tirelessly for the past three years to make their dream come true and their efforts are finally coming to fresh, frozen fruition as they prepare to introduce Rhode Islanders’ taste buds to their tasty Thai style ice cream rolls that come in seven fun flavors. Their initial idea was to open up a frozen yogurt place, but the young entrepreneurs soon discovered that within the fast evolving contemporary culinary experience, froyo is a dying trend. And so, Major and Sadam decided to go into the Thai ice cream business, focusing on a commodity that only recently hit US markets with only a handful of stores in New York City. They also decided to give their venture four wheels and make Mike’s Ice a mobile truck.
Of course, realizing the dream hasn’t been easy: for the past week, Sadam has been working day and night on the truck that he an Major bought with capital from their deployments and brought up from Florida. Everything that is sold at Mike’s Ice is made from scratch, which means the truck needs to be equipped with special ice cream making machines as well as equipment for storing their ice cream bases and toppings. When asked about the greatest challenge they have faced so far, Sadam smiles and says: “You don’t sleep a lot.” He adds, “At the age of 24, I never thought I would be making ice cream. I thought I would come back and finish my engineering degree, but when opportunity knocks, you need to take a chance.”
Many people are to thank for taking a chance with Sadam and Major on their exciting new venture. Family members have been incredibly supportive, with Major’s mother Janet, affectionately known to the Mike’s Ice team as “mama bear”, opening up her home for the entrepreneurs to use as an office, a kitchen, a warehouse, a storage unit and a meeting point, and Sadam’s father coming up from Florida to help with the fabricating of the truck. Mike’s Ice received a SEG Hub Scholarship from Social Enterprise Greenhouse, which means they have been able to make use the SEG Hub, Rhode Island’s first community and co-working space for social entrepreneurs, and also access SEG’s comprehensive suite of business development services. “As an ice cream truck, you don’t really have an office, and SEG, full of supportive people and a friendly environment, has been incredibly helpful,” Sadam says.
However, Mike’s Ice’s biggest blessing has certainly been the team of people who have worked tirelessly together to make it happen. Major and Sadam have worked with a group of dedicated young people who have put in long hours and hard work to transform an idea that originated as a tribute to a fallen friend into an aspiring startup that is sure to change the way Rhode Islanders think of socially conscious business as well as a refreshing summer dessert.
On the social impact side of things, Mike’s Ice is partnered with Backpacks For Life, a nonprofit that provides homeless veterans with backpacks that contain essentials for survival. “We are both veterans, and now we are also entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs exist to solve problems,” Sadam says. “Veteran homelessness, suicide… these problems shouldn’t exist. These are people who fought for their country,” he adds. Major, Sadam and their team of dedicated entrepreneurs seek to take on the issues facing veterans that the Veterans’ Association and the government are failing to respond to.
Mike’s Ice is a young venture, and right now it has a simple primary vision: one seasonal mobile truck that provides fresh, homemade, delicious Thai style ice cream on the spot during the hot Rhode Island summer months. However, a while down the line, Sadam says they could look into a brick and mortar setup or multiple franchises. “Right now it’s a race to dominate this new market, and if we work hard we can stay ahead of the competition,” Sadam says. “We could be the next Pinkberry or Ben & Jerry’s!”
Talent Management & Journalism Intern
Naz Akyol is a senior at Brown University studying International Relations. She is interning under the University Initiative Talent Management program under Brian Sweeney and contributing to the SEG Blog. Originally from Ankara, Turkey, she works as an editor at Brown Political Review on campus. She is interested in learning more about local socially-conscious venture development.