How Dan Furlong brought ice cream vans to Dubai

A visit to Dubai in 2007 prompted Dan Furlong to set up the emirate’s first ice cream van company. He tells StartUp how Desert Chill came into being, and the challenges his business faces as he looks to grow the concept.

For many expats the migration to a warmer climate brings with it numerous opportunities. Cultural differences can mean that businesses expats saw as normal in their home countries all of a sudden became unique in their new surroundings.

Migrations have long been responsible for introducing new products and services to specific parts of the world. Cross-cultural exchanges have been a part of the human experience for millennia, with ancient trade routes taking textiles, precious metals, spices and scientific developments from one corner of the globe to the other. Communities have enhanced each others’ experiences from the vital to the menial, leaving gaps in the market for those with a keen eye to exploit.

So it was with Desert Chill.

When Dan Furlong visited the UAE in 2007, he was amazed to discover there were no ice cream vans offering cold sweet treats despite the long and consistent sunny days.

“I remember the day very well,” he says. “I was visiting my parents as my father was working here, and we went to the Rugby 7s. I sat and asked where the ice cream vans were, and everybody told me there weren’t any. So I did what every good entrepreneur does and went home to research it.”

Desert Chill, set up by Furlong and his brother Nathen, became Dubai’s first ice cream van company when it launched in 2008. The business brings the traditional ice cream vans – seen with great regularity on the streets of the UK – to the UAE. Initially setting out on routes around Dubai, the vans can now also be seen around Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, with plans to expand even further.

Not being acquainted with the business side of ice cream delivery, however, meant that Furlong had to embark on a mission of learning before bringing the concept to life.

“I didn’t have any prior knowledge of how to run an ice cream van – just memories of  when we were young, running after the van,” he says.

“They were the great memories that came along when we thought of starting an ice cream van company. But from the business side of things we had to learn everything from scratch, first hand.

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Posted by: robert bruce mullan

Dan, fab wee story! I was brought up in a certain ice cream van period in Glasgow! although you wont see anything I have here in Dubai , it was a fantastic work place , hard work, late nights early starts, long long hours very well rewarding and a lot of fun most of the time. Im 42 now live in Dubai selling insurance I learnt my trade on the vans!!

best of luck


Posted by: MSA

I have been in UAE for 20 years, and you have set-up your business since 2007 or 2008 I guess, and it's 2013 now, and I haven't heard about your company even once anywhere...which is a bit strange, which brings up the point that your marketing isn't so well done. May be you should focus on areas which are more expat and middle-class oriented, areas like Jumeirah Beach, Buhaira Corniche in Dubai, Taawun Beach, these places will give you exposure like none other..and you definitely must try the online deal sharing websites - they are great for F&B Businesses!

Posted by: Adnan Branbo

Very inspiring story for any aspiring to be entrepreneur. It reminds me of a great book by the British author Sahar Hashemi "Anyone Can Do It"

Posted by: Rakesh Dewan

How interesting !

We were definitely the first ones to bring Ice cream vans from the UK back in 1979. The ice cream was also imported from UK as were the Fiberglass Vans in the shape of Uncle Sam .

We operated the Uncle Sam Ice Cream in Sharjah and the jingling bells charmed the children from their houses to buy the ice cream . It was a very interesting side business for us but due to small turnover and lack of focus we could not carry it for too long .

However , since you have pursued it , I am sure you will see sweet results.

Good Luck .

Rakesh Dewan

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