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After 4 decades, iconic Hamilton ice cream truck owner serves last scoop | CBC News

It’s been a long, fulfilling 41 years for Steve Tsiliganos, better known as Mr. Yum the Ice Cream Man.

Steve has been a staple in lower Hamilton since he bought his first ice cream truck in 1981.

Now, the 73-year-old said he’s passing the cone on to new owners and entering retirement.

Steve told CBC Hamilton he asked his son, Tery, to announce his retirement on Facebook earlier this week.

Steve said he received an outpouring of messages from people of all ages, sharing their happy memories of getting Mr. Yum’s ice cream.

Tery said the response was “humbling.”

Tery Tsiliganos, Steve’s son, said some of his father’s best customers were local dogs, like Mara pictured here, looking for a pup cup. He said when dogs familiar with Mr. Yum heard the generator, they came running. (Submitted by Tery Tsiliganos)

“He always tried to spread a little bit of cheer and a little bit ice cream wherever he could,” he said.

Steve said he’s watched some of the kids he served in the 1980s grow to be become parents and grandparents.

“They grew up with me. It’s like a family.”

‘A classic immigrant story’

Steve said he immigrated from Crete, Greece, to Hamilton in 1973. He started working in Burlington, making blades for a chainsaw factory, and later worked at International Harvester in Hamilton until 1985.

Steve bought his first ice cream truck, the Snow Daddy, in 1981. He’d make his rounds in it after work and on the weekends.

Tery said he doesn’t know how his father managed to juggle a full-time job, the ice cream business and raising four children — but he did.

“It’s your classic immigrant story, right?” Tery said. “He worked hard.”

People stand around an ice cream truck.
Before he owned the Mr. Yum truck, Tsiliganos owned a 1950s truck called the Snow Daddy. (Submitted by Tery Tsiliganos)

Tery said a lot of his childhood was spent with his father in the ice cream truck, riding around town and eating ice cream.

When he got older, Tery started working for his dad, which included running a fleet of Mr. Yum-branded ice cream bicycles.

“I get people asking, ‘Why didn’t you take over the family business?’ and honestly, that jingle, I still hear it in my nightmares. I heard it every day for years and years,” he said.

The ice cream truck was such a huge part of Tery’s childhood that he and his siblings were referred to as the Yumlings.

“It was a nickname around the house. You wouldn’t say dad, you would call him Mr. Yum,” Tery said.

People dressed for a wedding stand in front of an ice cream truck.
The Mr. Yum truck has been such an important part of the Tsiliganos family’s life that Tsiliganos’s daughter is pictured here getting an ice cream after her wedding in 1997. (Submitted by Tery Tsiliganos)

Steve said the most important thing to him in all his years of serving ice cream was making children happy.

One of the ways he did that was to ensure kids without money never felt left out. 

“You don’t have no money? It’s OK,” he said, and added he used his tips to offset the cost of the freebies he gave out.

“I got my own kids and I understand.”

Steve will spend retirement with friends

Tery said it took his dad years to retire.

“We’ve tried to have him retire multiple times and he’s like, ‘What would I do?'” Tery said.

Steve said running the ice cream truck was hard work, even if it didn’t seem like it.

“You get up in the morning, sometimes you work [until] 10, 11 in the night,” he said. “It’s long hours. You have a lot of stress, you know?”

A little girl stands in front of the Mr. Yum truck with a chocolate vanilla swirl cone. She is grinning.
Ceairra Mercuri submitted this photo of her younger sister, Gracie, enjoying a swirl cone in 2018. (Submitted by Ceairra Mercuri)

Steve said he recently sold the Mr. Yum ice cream truck. The new owners are from Toronto and own several other trucks.

As part of the deal, Steve said, they are allowed to keep the Mr. Yum name on the truck as long as they keep the business in Hamilton “because everybody knows who Mr. Yum is.”

Steve said he’s been trying to keep himself busy since his wife died five years ago, but is ready to spend more time on his interests and stop working.

He said he loves to fish and hunt. Steve said he plans to spend some of his retirement time in northern Ontario and some of it taking care of his family’s olive groves back in Crete. 

“I just need good company, good friends and that’s it.”

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