Chillin’ at the Bus Stop: How Plant Faced Hit the Road

WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGES Kim Bice and courtesy Plant Faced

Aug 1, 2023 | Featured, Food + Drink, People

As popular as they were in the 1960s, VW buses have never lost their appeal—or their fun—in the face of more modern cars. Rounded edges, massive windows, circular headlights…they just look happy.

Which is why, when Chad and Amy Summerhill stumbled across one for sale in Van Buren, Arkansas, nine years ago, they bought it. They didn’t have definite plans for it at the time, but they knew it had potential…for something. Plans to fix it up were delayed when renovations to their home took precedent, and so the VW bus sat in their carport for the next few years, collecting dust and attracting no shortage of interest.

“Just about every handyman that came to the house asked what we’d take for the bus, and I’d shake my head and say, ‘She’s not for sale,’” Amy recalls. “We even had random people just driving by the neighborhood stopping to make offers—but we gave them the same answer. ‘Not for sale, someday I’m gonna do something with her.’ I did come close once, because she had sat in our carport for so long, but I just couldn’t let go.”

Something and someday turned into a definite plan when Amy had her aha moment: She wanted to convert it into an ice cream truck. And not just for run-of-the-mill ice cream. Nope. Artisan, vegan ice cream, made by Amy herself.

As someone who converted to a flexitarian and largely plant-based lifestyle after a health scare, Amy believes in the benefits to both body and planet that come from limiting meat and dairy. She and Chad have both since adopted the flexitarian way of life, and now she is making converts of visitors to their bus, one scoop—or two—at a time.

But let’s back up the bus for a minute. How did it get from collecting dust in the carport to the shiny, cheery peach-and-white dream it is now? “Lots of blood, sweat, and tears—mostly tears,” Amy says with a laugh.

Initially, the impetus for this intensive project had been a collaboration with a friend of Amy’s who had been considering starting her own juice business. “Both of us were playing around with a plant-based diet and thought, why not go in together and do juice and vegan ice cream?” Amy explains. “So, we sat down, played around with recipes, got a little business plan together…and then my friend moved to Dallas. I had already started the process and sent the bus off to get stripped down, so I decided to keep moving forward and just buckled in for the ride! I don’t know that I would’ve had the courage to do something like this on my own, so I’m so thankful to her for believing in this, even though she couldn’t stay.”

The dream was in motion and by summer of 2021 Chad and Amy were staring at a bus that was fully stripped down and converted into a trailer. Next came the process of turning it into an ice cream truck. “Converting a VW bus was intense—nothing is square or straight or a right angle!” Amy says. “Every step was a major puzzle to solve. We know DIY from working on the house, but this was ten times harder. It could be disheartening at times, but we made it, one weekend at a time.”

Two years after they’d “buckled in,” Amy opened Plant Faced, offering ice cream lovers in Fort Smith, Arkansas, something they couldn’t find just anywhere – all from her spot at the Bakery District located in Downtown Fort Smith. “I wanted to offer something we don’t have a whole lot of here, and maybe change some misconceptions about what plant-based food can be,” Amy notes. “By taking a product that is so closely related to dairy and making it vegan in a way that tastes good, I’m able to change some misconceptions about vegan food. It’s also been really rewarding to see moms bringing their lactose-intolerant kids for their very first ‘ice cream’ cone.”

Plus, there’s the bus.

“I knew the bus would be a fun conversation starter, and aesthetics really matter to me,” Amy says. “We definitely could have built this in a different trailer and made the build-out easier, but I wanted to bring something fun and different to the community, something that made people smile just by seeing it, something that people wanted to take their picture in front of, something that drew people in before even knowing what I offered.”

All peach-and-white happiness, the converted VW bus is in fact a conversation starter, a draw for the Instagram set and—indeed—something that makes people smile.

Not that it hasn’t been a long road to get here, with plenty of speedbumps along the way. “Getting to the point of just being able to open was a massive challenge,” Amy says. “Planning the buildout was tough—lots of graph paper and little moving pieces cut to scale like a paper doll—and then came the actual buildout, delays, and injuries, and at times the extremely frustrating custom work, figuring out codes, licenses, permits, and which department to go to for changes. It took a whole village to raise this bus, and I’m so thankful to my family and friends who have been there every step of the way: all the taste testing, towing, business planning, being my sounding board when the challenges seem insurmountable—even hugging when power cords get stolen. Having a community of your people is invaluable.”

So, too, is a willingness to put your dream out there. As new to the community as Plant Faced is, Amy is proving her concept, one day at a time. Call it magic—from the bus, from the determination of the person dreaming the dream, from the undeniably delicious ice cream that Amy makes from scratch. “I start with soaking cashews, melting sugar, adding fat and flavor, and then pour it all into my ice cream machine and let her churn!” Amy says. “It’s a little mesmerizing to watch it go from liquid to creamy, scoopable deliciousness.”

Typically, Amy offers six flavors at a time, though, depending on how busy she gets, that number can dwindle. Current best-sellers include coffee, cookie dough, peanut butter brownie, and strawberry balsamic, though Amy loves experimenting and is constantly updating the menu.

Two years after starting down this road, Amy has come far, with a lot to show for the journey. “I am proud of not just letting it sit out there in the ether as an idea, a dream, a ‘maybe, someday,’ and actually making it a today,” Amy says. “Today I’ll buy a little bucket ice cream machine, tomorrow I’ll register with the state, the next day we’ll put panels in the bus… and just kept moving forward. Looking at everything, it felt so intimidating and big, but just doing the next thing, and then the next, and then the next became easier. I’m just really proud that I kept taking the next step. And choosing to take the next step after that. And now I have this adorable little bus, in this incredible little spot, and it’s real.”

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Do South Magazine

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