Pittsfield native Doug Quint, the co-founder of New York City-based Big Gay Ice Cream, has the kind of ebullient confidence that remains unflappable even in the most challenging of times. Such as when the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its extreme homophobic views, attacked him on Twitter. Or when, in the days when he drove his Big Gay Ice Cream Truck through the streets of New York City, groups of kids on the street would try to taunt and embarrass him.
“You think you can really start something with me? Good luck,” Quint, 46, said recently.
Still, even an unshakeable person can get shaken sometimes. For the ice cream entrepreneur, that moment happened quite recently, when he saw a photograph his sister had taken while standing in the ice cream section of the South Portland Shaw’s grocery store. Behind her head were rows of his ice cream pints, unmistakable with their bold black-and-rainbow, sassy-unicorn-bedecked design. In March, the ice cream company that he started nine years ago almost as a performance art project in a rented New York City ice cream truck (more on that later), has greatly expanded its range by selling pints in stores from Baltimore to Bangor and beyond.
In March, the Shaw’s and Star Market grocery chains, with 153 stores throughout New England, signed on to carry the brand. After the deal was struck, Quint figured that there was a chance Big Gay Ice Cream could be stocked in some stores in Maine. Maybe he’d see it in Portland, he thought, the city that’s widely considered to be Maine’s most liberal. But the ice cream traveled much farther than that.
“It showed up in Augusta, in Waterville, and I completely and utterly lost it,” Quint said, adding that the picture his sister took really brought it home to him. “I was in New York City, and for a couple of days, I was a complete wreck. I saw this picture of her, went to a wall, leaned on it and fell apart, speechless. I could barely hold myself up.”
Then, a childhood friend shared a photo of the ice cream aisle at the Shaw’s in Waterville, and Quint knew he had to drive to Maine to see it for himself. He got to the Shaw’s grocery store in Augusta 15 minutes before closing, and as he approached the ice cream aisle, he took a deep breath to steel himself.
“I walked down the aisle to find it, and there we were. I just stared at it, then ran out of Shaw’s. I cried for about 45 minutes,” he said. “The ice cream went where I came from, and it went there on its own.”