GRAY — After four years of captaining his own small business on Little Sebago Lake, Joe Newlin is ready for the next challenge. 

Newlin, 22, owns the Good Ship Gelato, a family pontoon boat he converted into a floating version of an ice cream truck.  

For the past four summers, Newlin has puttered around Little Sebago Lake selling classic frozen novelties such as ice cream sandwiches and Popsicles — along with several flavors of gelato from Brunswick-based Gelato Fiasco.

The ice cream boat, a nautical take on the popular food truck trend, is equipped with a freezer and homemade inverter battery system to run the operation without a generator. Newlin also has an amplified stereo system on deck to blast “summertime music” and announce his arrival. 

“The lake is small enough that after being here for four years, people know that the sound of loud, old classic summer music is me,” Newlin said. “I made the decision to not play ice cream truck music for the sole reason that I didn’t want to go nuts listening to that every single day.” 

Newlin is part of a long tradition of ice cream boats on Little Sebago, having inherited the business from Jake Viola, who similarly ran the ice cream boat Jake on the Lake during his college years. 

“We’ve had several different families take it on,” said Pam Wilkinson, president of the Little Sebago Lake Association. “It’s something that creates memories.”

Set to graduate next spring from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Newlin is looking to sell the ice cream business and “ready to try my hand at something else.”

Newlin hopes to find another young person to whom he can pass the ice cream baton. 

“I want there to be an ice cream boat on the lake next summer,” he said. “Ideally, I’d want it to be another kid.”

Newlin grew up in Brunswick, where his parents John Newlin and Patty Carton are co-owners of Scatter Good Farm. His family bought a camp on Little Sebago in the late 1990s, and he’s been coming to the lake in the summer ever since. 

In his business, Newlin said, “You get your regulars, and you build relationships, and it becomes a lot of fun.”  

One of those regulars, Emily Gascoyne, who lives in Pennsylvania but has owned an island property on the lake for four years, has been impressed with Newlin’s operation. 

“You just text him, and here he is,” she said, adding that the mobile tracking feature on Good Ship Gelato’s website makes it easy to figure out where Newlin is on the lake. 

 “I hope somebody does take it over. It wouldn’t be the same without it,” Gascoyne said. 

Newlin may have a corner on the Little Sebago Lake ice cream market, but he’s not the only food boat in the Lakes Region.

On gig Sebago Lake, a well-established Westbrook food truck has also taken its operation to the water. Don’s H20, the aquatic arm of Don’s Lunch, has been selling food from a 26-foot pontoon boat for the past two summers. 

Owner Craig Bernier said the boat has essentially the same menu of burgers, dogs and sandwiches as the Westbrook food truck, which recently had its business license revoked after Bernier did not install a city-ordered fence between Don’s Lunch and a neighboring condominium building. 

Bernier and Newlin said they are licensed as mobile food units through the state.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state’s Health Inspection Program, said that only two of the 637 licensed mobile food units are boats. She did not provide the names of those two businesses. 

Newlin said he pulls up to docks or beaches for most of his sales, but will tie up alongside other boats. The biggest challenge of the whole operation, he said, is maneuvering the pontoon boat. His biggest cost is the gelato. 

Newlin’s older brother Mitch Newlin, who founded a refrigerator re-selling company while at Bates College in Lewiston, works for Gelato Fiasco. That connection helped the younger Newlin launch the partnership with the Brunswick business.

“The idea of selling it from a boat was pretty unusual when proposed, but co-founder Josh Davis decided to proceed with the partnership because we love to support young entrepreneurs,” said Gelato Fiasco Marketing Director Bobby Guerette.

Newlin said that while Gelato sales initially dragged behind the conventional ice cream, 64 percent of his dollar sales now come from the gelato.

“Year by year as people understand what it its, it keeps taking off,” he said.  

His projected sales for the summer total $22,000, and he estimates that his take-home pay should be between $9,000 and $10,000, not including tips. 

He is “almost always a one-man show” except on the busy Fourth of July holiday, which brought in $1,900 in sales this year. 

Newlin said he has never encountered any issues related to his state license. 

“The only the time the wardens have ever stopped me was to buy an ice cream,” Newlin laughed.  

Joe Newlin of the Good Ship Gelato serves ice cream during a Pirate Boat Parade organized by the Little Sebago Lake Association. (Little Sebago Lake Association  photo)

Joe Newlin is looking to sell his floating ice cream business after four years on Little Sebago Lake. (Matt Junker/The Forecaster)


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