Frozen treat shop in converted shipping container runs into roadblocks

June 3, 2019

Jessica and Matthew Rooney thought they had a great idea to expand their frozen treat business.

The owners of Dakota Snow/Sub Zero Desserts had seen shipping containers converted into semi-permanent restaurants and shops, and figured that would be an innovative way to give fans of their mobile business a way to find them on a daily basis during the summer, Jessica Rooney said.

They were ready to start serving shaved ice and rolled ice cream Memorial Day weekend but haven’t been able to because of city regulations.

At the beginning of the year, the Rooneys checked in with city officials in the Health, Zoning and Building Services departments, knowing that theirs would be the first business using a shipping container as a walk-up shop. The couple told department staff members that the container would be moved in on a flatbed trailer, set in place and then picked up and moved into storage for the winter, Rooney said. They were told it would be considered a food truck, she said, so they bought a container from Mobile Mini Solutions, and a friend who’s a builder customized it for them. They got permission from the owner of Your Pet Stop to set the unit in the lot next to the store at 501 E. 41st St.

While the shipping container was being customized, the Rooneys considered adding a rooftop deck with seating. They checked in with Building Services and were told that would make it a building structure, which meant additional restrictions would come into play, Rooney said. Most significantly, the site is in a flood plain, so an engineer would need to be hired and the shipping container would have to be raised about 2 feet, be anchored and become ADA compliant.

But finding a location in the first place wasn’t easy, so they decided to skip the rooftop seating and moved the unit to the site. They had an electrical panel installed for power, so they wouldn’t have to use generators, and passed preliminary inspections.

The problems began when the Police Department wouldn’t issue a peddler’s license as a food truck because the unit doesn’t have wheels or a license.

The Rooneys went back to Building Services and asked for a solution. To be a food truck, the shipping container would have to be placed on wheels. If not, it would be treated as a building structure, with all of the additional restrictions.

Rooney said they were told: “If you want to be a food truck, be a food truck. If you want to a restaurant, be a restaurant.”

At this point, the business is in the height of its short season, and Dakota Snow, which is changing its name to Sub Zero Desserts, has grown since its start in 2014 to the point where it needs two units. When the original rainbow-colored food trailer isn’t booked elsewhere, the Rooneys have been operating it at the 41st Street site next to the unused shipping container.

“This week, we have four different bookings that will pull us away from a daily spot, and on the weekend we’ll be at the Renaissance Festival.”

They’re frustrated that they were given misinformation from the start, Rooney said.

“We feel like this sort of thing shouldn’t happen,” she said. “They should be clear. … We built it with the understanding it was going to be OK. If we had known at the time, we would have customized a food trailer.”

While they believe the shipping container is a mobile business because it can be moved within a day, they plan to turn it into a food trailer.

They’re hoping, however, for a compromise from Building Services that will allow them to operate with the shipping container on the ground while the customized trailer is being built for it, which will take three to four weeks, Rooney said. That’s cutting into a season that only lasts three or four months, she said.

“The first thing we need is some plans submitted,” said Butch Warrington, the chief building official for the city. “We have never had a plan submitted.”

Warrington said he’s had conversations with the Rooneys, but the two sides can’t get to a starting point until the Rooneys submit a plan for the location.

He said he didn’t have any comment about the Rooneys’ issue with the information they said they received from city staff at the beginning of the year.

Because of their experience, the Rooneys plan to speak during the public comment section of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Rooney said.

“We want them to hear our experience with the city because this isn’t an OK thing. … This is hard on a small business. We have so many small businesses (in Sioux Falls), and that’s what great about us.”

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Frozen treat shop in converted shipping container runs into roadblocks

A couple’s innovative idea to turn a shipping container into a seasonal walk-up frozen treat shop has run into roadblocks.

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