Erika Schaltenbrand believes eating ice cream is a form of therapy.
Through Sweet Pea’s Sweet Treats, the ice cream truck she launched in 2019, Schaltenbrand is dishing out frozen doses of happiness at block parties, private events, schools, nursing homes and mental health facilities throughout the region.
A former mental healthcare worker at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and other facilities, Schaltenbrand needed a career change but wanted to stay connected to the community she has served for more than a decade.
“I enjoyed the ice cream truck experience so much as a kid,” she says. “It’s such a nostalgic thing. I wanted to make a full-time job out of bringing people joy.”
She bought the vehicle from the family of the late Billy Borlak, who tooled around the Pittsburgh area for decades delivering novelty desserts to kids, including a young Schaltenbrand, who grew up in McCandless.
After renovating Billy’s Ice Cream Truck, Schaltenbrand changed the name to Sweet Pea’s in honor of her grandma, who gave her the moniker. The state deemed hers an essential business, which allowed her to keep rolling safely throughout the pandemic.
“I’ve worked with some memory care units at retirement homes,” she says. “The sound of the bell stimulates their brain. People light up inside even if they don’t remember why the bell brings back good feelings.”
Patrons can order classic treats such as choco tacos, bomb pops, screwballs, drumsticks, Italian ice and strawberry shortcake bars. The menu also boasts character shapes ranging from Bugs Bunny to SpongeBob SquarePants and newer favorites like Dippin’ Dots.
With help from her mom Laura Schaltenbrand, a former nurse, she’s also selling Sunshine-Grams. For $4, you can buy a postcard in person or through Venmo (@pghicecreamlady) and personalize it with an inspiring message for someone at a community mental health program.
Sweat Pea’s will then deliver the grams, along with complimentary ice cream products (she even donates sweets to the staff members).
“The response has been incredible,” she says. “I had no idea how much of a need there was in the community.”
The truck’s ice cream season runs April through October, but Sweat Pea’s will make the rounds during the winter months to sell hot chocolate bombs and other heart-warming offerings.
Schaltenbrand says she knows a lot of people are on a rocky road these days, but she hopes a little kindness and good humor will make the journey easier.
Because sometimes a simple push-up pop can raise a person’s spirits.