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Excerpt from a Thurston Talk article by Rebecca Sanchez - 02-25-2022

The Sweetlee's Story

In childhood, the notion of visiting an ice cream truck is exciting. When it comes to a full-sized ice cream food truck, the excitement is heightened not only for children but for adults too. Sweetlee’s Ice Cream of Olympia is the big white and red ice cream food truck where families stop in for a treat or an after-dinner dessert. Sweetlee’s ice cream contains quality, locally sourced ingredients and is literally and metaphorically a vehicle for connecting the community. Their first anniversary will be on March 26, 2022 and coincides with the debut of their second truck.

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Sweetlee’s is the business venture of the Lee family. Both spent time in other job fields but shifted their focus around the time when the COVID pandemic hit. Now, they make small batch, homemade ice cream. Inside the truck is a 24-quart Emery Thompson ice cream machine. Lea Lee handles the marketing and design, management of the truck and trains employees. Her husband is the ice cream maker. “We both have had several different careers in the health and fitness realm,” says Lea. “We got into the ice cream business because we absolutely love ice cream. I thought it was a creative outlet for my love of design and my partner has an amazing pallet for flavor design. Olympia at the time did not have anything made local besides Gelato, so we thought it needed us.”

Makers of home-made, small batch ice cream, Sweetlee’s includes locally sourced ingredients, such as fresh fruit in the summertime. Photo credit: Mikiah Tatlock

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Sweetlee’s makes for a good after lunch treat or dinner dessert outing. Outside are a few benches for customers to relax and room in the spacious parking lot to tailgate.

Photo courtesy: Sweetlee’s Ice Cream

Deliberate choices are made, and strategic steps are taken to make a quality ice cream, including vegan and non-dairy options, by using local, seasonally fresh fruit and including local ingredients whenever possible. Together, the Lee’s have created a local business that every community needs and cherishes. Ice cream trucks signify joy, fun and good times with others. “We are an ice cream shop on wheels,” explains Lee. “We have the same menu items shops offer inside. We really enjoy being able to offer a different experience with our truck. Having an outdoor patio has been great during the pandemic. We are able to give our customers ample space to feel comfortable. Even in the rain it works really well during COVID.”

Community connections are a priority for Sweetlee’s. They are a small business looking to grow but also doing that in a way that it grows the community around them, including other local, small businesses. One way they build those ties is to join with schools and sports teams in their fundraising efforts. The truck can also be rented to attend an event or called up to deliver ice cream to it. Local sourcing happens on a year-round basis, but in summertime, many ingredients, such as berries, are fresh. “We are always looking for local partnerships for ingredients,” says Lea, “it’s a way to keep our community alive and thriving, actually investing in our community by buying locally and fundraising.” Local ingredients show up in their menu items. Chocolate Cookie Surprise ice cream has Cinn-a-Grils cookies. Johnson Berry Farm tayberry jam is in the Lemon Jam Crumble and the Spiced Apple Sorbet is made with cider from Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm.

Located at 2411 Harrison Avenue NW in Olympia, the Sweetlee’s ice cream truck is tucked into an open lot with trees behind it. They are also right next to the taco truck. They are open after 2 p.m. on weekdays, starting at noon on weekends and open until 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. No matter what season, it makes for a good after lunch or dinner dessert outing. If the weather permits, they have a good view for sunsets too. Outside are a few benches for customers to relax and room in the spacious parking lot to tailgate.

A second truck means more ice cream, and that’s good news. It will take its place at the West Harrison location. Lea will continue to cater with the first truck for bookings such as weddings, Fourth of July parties, graduations and employee appreciation events. It also means further connectedness to local, small businesses and the community at large, and Sweetlee’s is always looking for more of those opportunities.

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Located at 2411 Harrison Avenue NW in Olympia, the Sweetlee’s ice cream truck is tucked into an open lot with trees, and they are right next to the California Taco truck.

Photo courtesy: Sweetlee’s Ice Cream

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