Daniel Oliver Castro squints into the late afternoon sun, stoic like a statue, letting the hustle and bustle of lunchtime on Chambers Street pass him by. He looks down and grins as he sees a familiar face. “Hey! Coco with Rainbow, amigo?” laughs Castro, a Bronxite who lives near Morris Avenue, as he reaches for his scooper and prepares a medium cup for the customer who hadn’t even ordered yet. They drop into casual conversation as another customer walks up. “Hey Danny!” Castro glances forward, hands the first customer his order and unhesitatingly fills out another, smiling under the shady umbrella of his Icee stand just two blocks from Stuyvesant.
“The Icee Man on Chambers Street,” as some refers to him, is a 56-year-old Nicaraguan native who immigrated to America about 30 years ago. His stand is on the corner of Chambers Street and Greenwich Street, and he offers three cup sizes: 3 oz for $1, 4 oz for $2 and 5 oz for $3. His Icees come in six flavors: Coconut, Cherry, Mango, Rainbow, Blueberry and Pineapple.
A father of two and a self-proclaimed entrepreneur, Castro moved from Central America with his second wife to escape political strife and find economic opportunity, leaving his children behind with family.
Castro began his life in the United States as a coffee vendor. As years passed, he consistently searched for any odd job he could find, leading to his eclectic work record as a restaurant assistant, waiter, and factory floor worker. After ten or so years of career-less wandering, Castro got started in the job he has held ever since: a proud member of the highly mobile street-vendor company called Cocolados.
His ties to the company are loose; he buys his Icee flavors from them daily, puts them in the cart that he rents from the company, and stores it in their garage at a cost. All other profits are completely his own, and his work schedule is unregulated. From late April to about Halloween (generally the hottest days of the year), Castro is basically the CEO of his own small business.
“I love working for my own pay check,” Castro said. “This way, the more work I do, the more money I get.” He works from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., staying longer on hotter days and often skipping cold, rainy ones. These six to seven summer months are grueling, but necessary, because he has no sustainable income during the winter. “I usually try and find any job I can,” Castro said. “But [because of the recession,] I haven’t been able to find a [winter] job for the past two years.”
Under these circumstances, Castro has to be an astute business owner. He not only works far away from the company headquarters in the Bronx to avoid rivals, but also refrains from employing people to work other carts for him, realizing that he might then be “creating new competition,” he said.
Despite the exhausting work schedule, Castro keeps his customers’ satisfaction as his number one priority. Many of his customers know him by name. “Everyday I’m around here, I get an Icee,” Jeff Rogoff, a regular customer who works in Lower Manhattan, said. “There is great service, always […] and it’s because of Daniel that I get [the Icees].” Others even order from his car during red lights. Castro jokes that the customers were taking advantage of the stand’s “drive-thru service.”
Castro is a self-made man, an emphatic consumer of his own product (his favorite flavor is coconut) and someone who has never worked a day without a smile. He is happy with his job, but always strives for a more lucrative career based in his passion for ice cream.
“I’ve always wanted to have a little ice cream shop somewhere where I can have my own location, my own business,” Castro said wistfully.
With great service, dozens of regular clients who love him, and a location right near a high school of over 3000 insatiably hungry kids, he might reach that goal someday.