Ice Cream With a Bitter Taste: This Cone Man is a Con Man


mister-softee_Logo Master_Softee_Logo Mister_Softee_Vs_Master_SofteeWanted: A grinning, bow-tied, cone man who’s been seen on the streets peddling his copycat sweets.

A federal court judge banned Master Softee from operating its rogue fleet of ice cream trucks that blatantly rip off the Mister Softee brand — but so far, the Master’s rapscallion cast of dessert vendors refuses to budge.

The June 5 ruling was a score for Mister Softee. The summertime treat powerhouse had sued its former franchisee, Dimitrios Tsirkos, who runs his buggies in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx out of a depot in Long Island City.

The 53-year-old Woodside businessman painted his vehicles in a familiar-looking red, white and blue color scheme and included a grinning, cone-headed mascot — making the truck difficult to differentiate from a Mister Softee four-wheeler.

“It is obvious that (Tsirkos) adopted his truck designs with the object of achieving an appearance similar to plaintiff’s Mister Softee trucks,” Judge Laura Taylor Swain wrote in court papers. “The trucks are designed to appeal to children, who are relatively unsophisticated consumers.”

Swain barred Tsirkos from using the name Master Softee or any other confusing names or marks, and prohibited Tsirkos from involvement in any facet of theretail ice cream industry within 5 miles of his former Mister Softee franchise territories until February 2016.

Still, the Daily News spotted Master Softee trucks over the weekend on Sixth Ave., in Greenwich Village, and along Broadway in Astoria. Mister Softee co-owner Jim Conway said that a private eye retained by his company counted 10 of the trucks on Saturday and Sunday in Manhattan.

“These guys are bad guys on all levels,” said Conway, whose family founded the New Jersey-based chain in 1956. “We don’t have an alternative but to work through the court system. Conway and his lawyer, Jeff Zucker, have spent more than a decade suing knockoff Mister Softee ice cream trucks. They say they have never lost a case.

Tsirkos’ attorney, Nicholas Damadeo, wouldn’t explain why the illegal sugar-loving crew appeared to be ignoring the court’s order. “The case is still proceeding,” Damadeo said, adding the ban is not permanent and Tsirkos can file an appeal. “That’s one of the avenues that is available.”

Meanwhile, Mister Softee investigators plan to submit photographs of Master Softee trucks in action, hoping that Swain will come down on Tsirkos. “They are violating the judge’s orders,” Conway said.



Sneak Thief Steals Change From Queens Ice Cream Trucks

mister-softee1His smile never wavers above his bright red bow tie. This is not a serious man — he has an ice cream cone for a head. And yet in the cheery world of Mister Softee, there are rules.

  • Do not sell ice cream on another Mister Softee truck’s route.
  • Do not play the music constantly. Turn it off while you’re idling.
  • If the machine acts up and pumps too much ice cream onto a cone, do not serve it. Other kids will notice and want a big one, too.

And as of this month, a new rule at a Mister Softee truck lot in Queens: Do not leave your bank of quarters and bills locked in the truck overnight.

It changed what had been standard operating procedure at a Mister Softee parking lot in South Ozone Park for as long as any of the drivers could remember. The place seemed very secure, with cameras, a tall fence and locks on the gate. And the trucks parked there must have looked worthless to a passing thief. What are you going to steal from an empty Mister Softee? Sprinkles?

Drivers routinely hid rolled bundles of quarters and sometimes more in the nooks and crannies of the trucks’ crowded interiors. It was easier than lugging the change home every night. They never had a problem, until April 4, when somebody entered the lot and forced open the service windows of a dozen or so Mister Softee trucks. The thief took hundreds of dollars in coins and bills, the police said.

The Mister Softee drivers arrived for work the next morning to find their trucks damaged and money gone. Out of work for a day of repairs, they became a team of amateur Detective Softees, swapping theories.

The culprit appears on a snippet of video to be a man, the drivers said. He probably climbed on top of a neighboring house and dropped over the fence into the lot.

“The guy was smart,” said Harish Kumar, 52, the lot’s owner.

Mr. Kumar bought the property in 1990 and cleaned it up. A Mister Softee driver lived down the block.

“He asked my husband, ‘Why don’t you make a parking lot for Mister Softee?’ ” said Mr. Kumar’s wife, Iman Khan. He agreed, and ended up buying four trucks himself. His children and relatives now work there, driving trucks, and Ms. Khan oversees the supply of ice cream mix, cones and other ingredients that are sold to the drivers.

Mr. Kumar knows every inch of his lot and his trucks. And so, it seems, did the thief. “He went behind the trucks,” Mr. Kumar said, “so the camera would not see him.”

The thief spent a couple of hours in the lot, going methodically truck to truck. “He got $700 from those three trucks,” Ms. Khan said, pointing, “350 from that truck.”

One veteran driver of 32 years, Henry J. Murphy Sr., 52, was one of the victims. He kept $200 or so in a cabinet that looks like a freezer, with a thermometer on the door.

“Only someone who knows the business would know,” he said.

“A guy who used to work with Mister Softee,” Mr. Kumar added.

So far, no arrests.

Mr. Murphy has been selling ice cream on his route in Jamaica for so long that, when a little girl appeared at his window, he remembered her father as a boy at that age. He earned enough to raise four children in East Elmhurst, Queens, he said. He graciously allowed a visitor to turn on the music for a minute and cross one more thing off a bucket list.

“That music,” he said, “has made me so much money.”

He works his route the way a doctor makes hospital rounds, parking outside a Catholic School on Parsons Avenue just before dismissal, where children lined up five-deep on Thursday. He worked without pause for half an hour before moving on to a playground. Then another school. He greeted many parents by name.

“It’s not just the face on the truck,” he said. “It’s the face behind the truck.”

The thief has not returned, but he may have struck again. A masked intruder broke into several Mister Softee trucks parked at a larger lot in Queens Village two weeks later. The drivers there kept only loose change in the trucks, but still, they were cleaned out, a manager said.

An Ozone Park driver just shook his head and said, “People will do anything for a buck these days.”