Fire almost ended the dreams of Paramus' 'Ice Cream Lady.' Her customers saved the day (2024)

A fire may have destroyed her truck. But fans of Paramus' beloved "Ice Cream Lady" made sure her dream didn't go up in flames as well.

Monica Pidhorecki was devastated in May when the second of her two trucks was severely damaged in a fire that also left her home temporarily uninhabitable. But in the weeks since, a fundraising effort by local families has gotten her back on the road, delighting the sweet tooths of countless Bergen County kids.

“I have never felt so loved and never realized the impact I had on this community until that happened,” she said.

The struggles are par for the course for Pidhorecki, 59, whose business started in the dark days of COVID. Early on in the pandemic, she was laid off from the bartending job she'd worked for two decades at the Maywood Inn's Twin Door Tavern. After sitting around for months during the lockdown, she decided “out of boredom” to pursue the career change she'd already been thinking about.

"The Ice Cream Lady" - emblazoned in big letters on her white and red truck − was born.

She remembers her first day on the road, July 13, 2020, as a slow one. Fearful of COVID, people were staying indoors. She tried the old-fashioned method, driving down local streets playing music, but nobody appeared.

How to find the Ice Cream Lady

Her husband Mike suggested a 21st-century twist to jump-start the business: Pidhorecki posted on a Paramus Moms Facebook page. If families wanted the ice cream lady to drop by their neighborhood, all they had to do was text.

“My phone blew up," recalled Pidhorecki. "And it’s never stopped since.”

Running her business on-demand helped her meet a lot of families in the area she covered, which includes Rochelle Park, Maywood, River Edge, Oradell and Paramus.

As the pandemic eased and the world opened up, people began hiring her for events. She dished scoops at welcome-back parties for employees and students, farmers markets, birthday gatherings and corporate events. The jobs remain her primary source of business today.

“This is my fifth season and the demand is amazing,” Pidhorecki said during a recent stop at the River Edge Farmers Market, where she sold 1,200 frozen treats in one afternoon.

Business was booming

Before the fire, the Ice Cream Lady was well on her way to expanding her business. Last year, she bought an old school bus that she planned to operate along with her husband and cousin to meet growing demand.

For a year, his wife recalled, Mike Pidhorecki put his “blood, sweat and a lot of tears” into turning the vehicle into an ice cream truck, taking out all the bus seats and sanding everything down. With a larger vehicle, Pidhorecki was able to serve customers hand-scooped products for the first time. She started with four flavors of Italian ice and had planned to add to the menu from there.

Fire almost ended the dreams of Paramus' 'Ice Cream Lady.' Her customers saved the day (1)

“I was going to add chocolate and vanilla ice cream, I was going to do sundaes, I had all kinds of visions,” said Pidhorecki.

She debuted the converted bus this spring and used it for five events, the last one a carnival at Ridge Ranch elementary school in Paramus on May 16.

“It was running fine and everything was normal,” said Pidhorecki. “ It was a great, successful event, my first school event. The kids loved it.”

The night of the fire: 'Something isn't right!'

That night, a Thursday, she got home at about 8:30 p.m. and parked her truck in her driveway like normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, Pidhorecki said.

She had dinner with Mike and later fell asleep on the couch. Around 10:30 p.m., however, her husband spotted a strange glow through a window.

“He jumped up and said 'something isn't right,'” Pidhorecki remembered. “He ran to the back and saw fire.”

Pidhorecki grabbed her dog and a phone to call 911 and ran outside. By the time she left the house, 20-foot high flames shot out of the vehicle. “The whole front of the new truck was engulfed." The exact cause of the fire wasn't determined but was traced to the engine compartment.

The damage didn't stop there, however. Her husband’s Ford F-250 went completely up in flames, leaving only a shell. The fire also made it into their home, catching on a three-foot overhang near the bedroom above the couple's garage. The living room and back of their house sustained heavy smoke damage.

“Everything was black,” said Pidhorecki.

Firefighters did everything they could to save her first truck. Thankfully, the damage was limited to a dusting of soot and a slightly melted sideview mirror, she said.

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It’s estimated it will take six to 12 months to get the house repaired. Pidhorecki is staying at her mother's home while the work is done, and she's parking her remaining ice cream truck at a friend's home.

The fire couldn’t have come at a worse time − June is the busiest month of the year for the mobile ice-cream business, Pidhorecki said. In the aftermath of the fire, she rented a Penske van as a temporary second vehicle, letting school events know this was the only way she could conduct business.

Fans stepped up: 'RR loves you'

That's when the legion of friends and supporters Pidhorecki had gained in the past four years stepped up.

Three different GoFundMe campaigns were started by local fans on behalf of the Ice Cream Lady. In all, they've raised about $22,000 to help replace her rolling store.

“They were amazing,” said Pidhorecki. “I still cry when I think about it because that’s what really kept our spirits up. It was really tough.”

The day after the fire, Pidhorecki was confused when she noticed her Venmo notifications kept going off. Sales of $5 to $20 were suddenly streaming in. The students at Ridge Ranch, the school she had been at the night of the fire, heard of her troubles and wanted to help.

Fire almost ended the dreams of Paramus' 'Ice Cream Lady.' Her customers saved the day (3)

“They were so upset,” said Pidhorecki. “The kids organized a virtual ice cream sale. It spread around to the other schools and they joined in too. They’d send Venmos that said ‘RR [Ridge Ranch] loves you.’”

She can't stop giving

Michelle Alfano, one of the presidents of the Paramus Parent Teacher Association, recalled how excited Pidhorecki had been about her truck that night at the school, how she told Alfano that she planned to donate $125 to the PTA in gratitude.

Then came news of the fire. Alfano was devastated and began spreading word of the Venmo effort. Twelve days later, she marveled, Pidhorecki was still trying to make her donation to the PTA.

“We said, thanks, but you can keep that and put it towards the new truck," said Alfano. "I'm so happy she was able to purchase a new truck so soon. We are so excited to have her back at school this fall."

Thanks to the donations, Pidhorecki and her husband were able to put a down payment on a 2024 Promaster extended van, enough to help them secure financing. It's still a work in progress but made its maiden voyage last Saturday in Long Valley, in Morris County.

"It's really hard for me to put into words," she said, "but my heart is so full."

Stephanie Nodais a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email:noda@northjersey.com

Twitter:@snoda11

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paramus' Ice Cream Lady lost truck to fire. Then her fans stepped up

Fire almost ended the dreams of Paramus' 'Ice Cream Lady.' Her customers saved the day (2024)
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