As It Happens

This ice cream truck owner is so fed up with Instagram influencers, he's charging them double

Joe Nicchi doesn't want to sound like a jerk, but he's not about to give away free ice cream for a little online exposure.

Joe Nicchi was asked to serve a 300-person event for 'exposure'

After CVT Soft Serve co-owner Joe Nicchi was asked to cater a 300-person party for 'exposure,' he decided to start charging influencers double in revenge. (Submitted by Joe Nicchi)
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Joe Nicchi doesn't want to sound like a jerk, but he's not about to give away free ice cream for a little online exposure. 

In fact, he's going to start charging double to people who offer it in lieu of payment.

Nicchi and his wife Tyler own CVT Soft Service in L.A. For the past few years, he says they have received weekly offers from online influencers to feature their ice cream on Instagram in exchange for a free cone. 

"This is a $4 item," Nicchi told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.  "Like, you don't have $4 if you really wanted the ice cream that bad?" 

A free party for 300 

Last week, Nicchi reached his breaking point.

It came in the form of an email asking him to cater a 300-person party for free. 

"They said there are going to be plenty of influencers there with up to 10 million people of followers among those influencers," Nicchi said. 

"And I said, 'This is just crazy.'" 

That's when he decided to do the exact opposite of giving away ice cream. On Sunday, at a spot that he says attracts "quite a hipster crowd," Nicchi set up a sign that reads: "Influencers pay double."

A cone of soft service ice cream from Joe Nicchi's ice cream truck normally costs $4 US — but for influencers, it now costs $8. (Submitted by Joe Nicch)

"I got burned out on it," he said. 

Nicchi said most people laughed and took photos of the sign. But it also got a couple of dirty looks from people that he assumes were the target. 

"I don't want to judge, but I'm guessing they may have been influencers because they looked at it kind of irritated," he said. "They saw it and left."

Vintage Mister Softee trucks

Nicchi and Tyler have owned the ice cream truck company since 2014. They operate out of two vintage 1960s Mister Softee trucks, serving ice cream on the streets of L.A. and at parties. 

He thinks the cool aesthetic of the trucks, nicknamed Charlie and Frankie, may be why they're so popular with social media celebrities. 

"I think influencers in L.A. are aware of our brand and they just want maybe a cool looking truck at their party as opposed to maybe a kind of rundown ice cream truck," he said. 

The company uses vintage 1960s Mister Softee trucks, something that Nicchi says is likely appealing to influencers. (Submitted by Joe Nicchi )

Their business is going well, but that isn't why Nicchi is wary of those seeking cones for likes.

Nicchi says he learned that a lot of the influencers actually paid for their wide reach through bots that automatically add followers, likes and comments to posts. 

"Why don't we make it more about the taste of the product and the service and deal with that versus the number on [an] Instagram profile," he said.   

Since the sign went up on Sunday, the line outside the CVT Soft Serve trucks has been busy. 

It's also been getting plenty of attention online. 

"It's total irony. I totally understand. It's hilarious," Nicchi said. 

And while he's excited that his business is getting attention, he's also warning other small companies to beware of influencers who inflate their numbers for free product. 

"It's really exciting for me to kind of expose this fraudulent activity that's going on among these people that I really don't know what they do other than post photos."

Awaiting twins 

While dealing with the most attention their business has ever received, the ice cream truck owners are also preparing for an addition to their family. 

Joe and Tyler Nicchi, owners of CVT Soft Service, are expecting twins. (Submitted by Joe Nicchi)

While speaking with As It Happens, Nicchi and Tyler were in the hospital awaiting the birth of twins. 

"It's just been a total whirlwind trying to absorb all that and I think I may be in a little bit of shock right now," Nicchi said. 

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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