James Karagiannis turned heads around the world this summer with his simple formula of karma, by peddling ice cream on a three-wheel-cycle but giving treats to kids with no money if they would answer a simple question and write a thank you note.
Since July, when the Ice Creamcycle Dude announced a fundraising effort to support this effort for Buffalo kids without money, Karagiannis raised $40,000.
Now with the ice cream season cycling down, Karagiannis realizes it could take years to give away $40,000 worth of bomb pops, crunch bars and orange buddies.
“I’ve never had this much money, ever,” he said. “I’ve had postcards printed up months ago thanking people again, saying I was so far able to hand out 10,000 ice creams, and if you haven’t gotten a card, you will.”
So he’s looking to spin his fleet of eight three-wheel-cycles selling ice cream over a larger territory next summer, and he is headed to India to think about how to accomplish it.
Every year for nearly a decade – about as long as Karagiannis has peddled ice cream – he travels in the off season, from November to April. Last year, he rode his bike around New Orleans, and he’s been to South America several times.
This year, he had planned to take his bike across country to Seattle, and then ride it from Seattle to San Diego.
“But the budget would be $50 a day,” he said. “It would be cheaper to go to India, where I can live for $25 a day. Besides, Indian food is my favorite.”
He will have a lot on his mind during the winter. After such a success this summer, how will he expand his ice cream peddling business next year?
“There are kids in South Buffalo who want ice cream,” he said. “I’d like to reach out beyond our core neighborhoods but still be unique, still have that individual interaction. We’re limited by bikes. Our geographical reach goes only so far.
“And that’s what I have to solve.”
Karagiannis had a breakout summer, making news in newspapers, network television and on social media sites throughout the world.
During late July and throughout August, film crews flew in from Germany and New York City to spend a day with him at work. NBC Nightly News shadowed him for two days. Greek television and CNN interviewed Karagiannis via Skype. He recorded countless radio interviews, one broadcast in Malaysia.
Karagiannis’ headquarters is in his garage, decked out in popsicle lights, inflatable crunch bars and maze of freezers and giant tricycles.
But with such a huge success, he doesn’t want to lose his message or his mission.
“We have to stay true to what it was in the beginning,” Karagiannis says on the Upworthy video posted on Facebook. “We want to make this one-on-one connection with kids. We’re watching these kids grow up. We’re part of their lives.”
The media spotlight could not have shined on a nicer guy, according to the people who conduct business with the 36-year-old Buffalo native and Bennett High School graduate.
Skip Murray, sales representative for Perry’s Ice Cream, worked with Karagiannis for seven years.
“He’s my biggest street vendor account,” Murray said. “The amount of ice cream he goes through is crazy. He’s tripled his order to 125 cases containing 24 bars each delivered twice a week.”
The two have become friends, with Karagiannis texting Murray holiday greetings and Murray impressed by his friend’s business savvy and social conscience.
“Most of the other street vendors will get two or three dollars for each bar, where he’s getting a dollar,” Murray said.“I knew he was giving the ice cream away. I remember him telling me his idea for the postcards. The look on his face, he was just blown away. He’s like a young hippie. That’s what I call him. On his journeys, he’s always interacting with people. He’s a good guy with a heart of gold.”
Karagiannis has fielded requests to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs starting their own socially responsible businesses, including a group of high school students from Baltimore. But he values his winters off, and he remains committed to giving away $30,000 worth of ice cream.
“I expect to give out $20,000 next summer, as we’ll be starting from the beginning of the season,” he said, “and the last $10,000 in 2018.”
But how to do it?
“We get to hook kids up for three years with ice cream, and the business foundation had been set to expand,” he said. “I have an entire winter to think, a kindle full of books to read, and time to brain storm. ”