"They stole my trailer. Inside was my push cart, my umbrella, my signage, my generator — even my ice scream scoops!"
In his thick Boston accent, the 34-year-old entrepreneur was telling me about his loss the night before as we sat in the Albertsons supermarket near Yorktown and Goldenwest. But when you get to know Mike Guidicianne, you also know that somehow, someway, he'll not just survive, but thrive.
I met him a few weeks ago when I was judging at the Taste of Huntington Beach, where he, one of the event's participants, was set up under the tent with the aforementioned cart, umbrella, signage, generator and ice cream scoops. As I wandered by, the salesman-at-heart motioned me over to sample his wares.
True, getting me to try Italian ice on a hot day (or pretty much any day for that matter) is no great challenge. Since watching men with pushcarts in New York's Little Italy spoon out fresh lemon ice on summer days when I was a kid, I have been addicted. And Guidicianne, who owns and operates Orange County Slush, must have seen me coming.
That said, as a purveyor of fine, flavored ices over the years, what he had to sample ranked right up there with the best I've had — from the streets of New York to Joe's Italian Ice in Garden Grove. My kids and I tried Blue Vanilla, Watermelon, Lemon (of course) and a new flavor — Orange County Cream.
In addition to his delicious product, Guidicianne's enthusiasm for his homegrown brand also hooked me, and so I thought I'd share his story here.
We met at a local Albertsons the other day to talk and I was met with the news of his loss. He'd parked his trailer full of supplies out back of the store earlier in the week only to have the entire thing stolen. Huntington Beach police are on it, but Guidicianne was not dwelling too much on the senseless crime. He's got other things to fret over, good things, like the fact that Albertsons is now going to be carrying freezers full of his ices in 80 of its Orange County stores.
Currently, Orange County Slush is carried in seven local stores — three in Huntington Beach, three in Irvine and one in Westminster.
As Guidicianne explained to me, he was raised in the Boston area, and his childhood was all but defined by his mom's battle with cancer.
"Mom had cancer since I was about six — so she was sick pretty much my whole life, that I remember, anyway. All I wanted to do was make my mom laugh every day. My dad would pick me up at school; we'd go to the hospital, and then get home late at night. That was my life. She died when I was 15, but she taught me so much about never giving up."
Straight out of high school, he went to work for Verizon in Everett, Mass., and while the pay was decent, Guidicianne had dreams beyond what he started to perceive as a lifetime of corporate ladder climbing. He was there for 11 years, mixing in a stint as a stand-up comedian. And still he was not satisfied.
During a visit to Orange County to visit his wife Sandy's family in Anaheim, he got bitten by the bug.
"It was Christmas day, like 75 degrees, and I got an idea," he laughs.
Thinking back to the favorite treat of his youth, Richie's Italian Ice, Guidicianne noticed the lack of ice carts in the OC. So the street-smart salesman (who would resell lollipops as an enterprising kid) worked a deal with Richie's that would allow him to create a subsidiary brand, which he did right here in Huntington Beach.
Guidicianne tested his idea by purchasing 82 1/2 gallons of ice, which sold out almost immediately, and he knew he was on to something. After a Chamber of Commerce event at the Albertsons at Beach and Adams, the store director tasted some of Guidicianne's product and flipped. That got him into his first eight stores, and soon it could be 240, from San Luis Obispo to Las Vegas to San Diego — depending on how the next rollout goes. But Guidicianne is confident as ever about the brand (whose logo, featuring his pooch Vegas, he designed himself).
He told me he and his wife love it here in Huntington Beach, and they are excited to base their business here. Guidicianne has a childlike enthusiasm that is infectious, and a product that is irresistible — a wonderfully potent combination. He stacks his pints lovingly in the Albertsons freezer, making sure the logo uniformly points out so customers can see it.
He wanted me to stress that all of his ices are fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, dairy/lactose-free and vegan — but I will stress that they taste as delicious as any Italian ices I've ever had.
Guidicianne's work ethic is a marvel to behold; he and his wife are doing this all on their own, and I think we are lucky to have them here in town. This summer, do yourself a favor and visit the freezer case in your local Albertsons for a pint or two of Orange County Slush.
And if you have any tips on the stolen trailer, Guidicianne says no questions will be asked (and there is a reward).
For more information, visit http://www.orangecountyslush.com.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.