Leyla Safai, 28, sat in the driver’s seat of her pink ice cream truck on 10th Avenue, looking for a Sour Apple Tart in the pile of organic lollipops she’d just emptied into her lap.
“I’m such a little kid,” she sighed. “Wait, look! There’s a watermelon! It didn’t say watermelon … Oh, it did: ‘Wet-Face Watermelon.’”
Ms. Safai’s hands burrowed through the candy. She was wearing pink leather moccasins, hand-cut denim shorts and a lacey black blouse. A pink pen held up her black hair that matched a thick line of makeup traced over the lids of her bulging brown eyes.
“I think I never fully grew up. And I think because I grew up really fast that—‘Orange Squeeze’! Oh, my God!—I think because I grew up so fast, that this is like my midlife crisis. It’s kind of like a man getting a red sports car. I got a pink ice cream truck.”
That truck is the Heartschallenger, a Mary Kay crusader of cute that’s arrived in New York this summer from Los Angeles. Traveling around the city, from art galleries to private kids’ parties to dance parties and nightclubs, the Heartschallenger dispenses everything from vintage toy parasols and zines on L.A. low-rider culture to green tea and red bean Japanese ice cream sandwiches. Two bucking silver unicorns flank a heart on the truck’s hood, and at night, a pink light emits an embryonic glow from the inside.
“There were more people outside at the ice cream truck than there were inside the club,” said Reni Laine, a model-thin blond Columbia undergrad whose first Heartschallenger encounter at a recent Misshapes event ended in two orange creamsicles, a Pink Panther ice cream bar and Pixy Stix.
On a recent Saturday the truck was outside a T-shirt festival at the Printed Matter Inc. art gallery in Chelsea. Manning the window was Ben Pollock, 28, Ms. Safai’s shy and smiley boyfriend/business partner, who likes to broadcast Serge Gainsbourg and David Bowie over the truck’s megaphone speaker. A few children stop their parents for popsicles, but most customers who poke their heads in are perplexed-looking grown-ups.
“So many adults come up and they are jumping up and down like 7-years-olds,” Ms. Safai explained. “‘And I want one of those! And one of those! And I want a finger puppet and a finger trap and a whistle and a glow stick!’”
The truck does possess a bizarre sugar-coated siren’s call over grown-up New Yorkers. Later that evening, as the Heartschallenger rattled to a hip-hop show in Brooklyn, nearly every adult in its wake—taxi drivers, policemen, an entire outdoor cafe—turned to grin and wave. Parents halted their children and drivers ignored the road as the truck’s gentle electro-pop soundtrack, written and recorded by Pollock, emitted its bells and chimes.
Too adorable? Maybe. But Ms. Safai doesn’t pretend that her personality and product are one in the same. “People think, like, unicorns and hearts, that that somehow translates into, like, optimistic, and I’m like the fucking most hard-core L.A. bitch you’ll meet in your life,” Ms. Safai said as she lapped up a Fudgesicle.