Cool Ride

September 2020 View more

By Kathy Cichon

Curious and intrigued looks from passersby are common when Sweet Mary’s Ice Cream bicycle is cruising through the neighborhood.

“I’ll ride down the street and people will be looking. And they’ll say ‘What’s that?’ ” Naperville resident Edye Keen says. “Seeing their faces is just really kind of funny because they don’t really know what it is. They haven’t really seen it before, but at the same time love the idea of it.”

Run by the five Keen sisters—all of whom have Mary in their first or middle names—the business is in its second year of operation. When the Marys are not busy with special events like birthday or block parties, they ride the electric bike around area neighborhoods selling frozen treats.

“Our whole mantra of the business is to share smiles,” MaryFaye Keen says. “And what better way than to bring ice cream out?”

The Marys include MaryFaye Margaret, 20, a junior at St. Louis University; Ellie MaryColleen, 18, a freshman also attending St. Louis University; Frannie (Francys MaryPatricia), 17, and Molly MaryClare, 15, both students at Neuqua Valley High School; and Edye (MaryEdythe Gallery), 13, who attends Scullen Middle School.

The idea for Sweet Mary’s came in winter 2018–19. While brainstorming possible job opportunities for the younger sisters, who were not yet old enough to get a traditional teenage job, the family thought of an ice cream business (, 630.362.4527).

“And then we kind of wanted to revamp the idea of the creepy ice cream truck,” MaryFaye says. “We wanted to make that more fun and open.” It also lent itself to the Keen family’s passion for being active and outdoors.

“This kind of idea encapsulated all that,” she says. “It just kind of evolved super naturally after that. All of a sudden we had a name and a color scheme. And everybody seemed really excited that we could go out and sell ice cream as a summer gig and share some smiles with some of our friends and the local community. It’s turned out to be the best summer gig that a girl could have in the summer.”

While visiting family in the Los Angeles area in spring 2019, mom
Colleen and MaryFaye took a trip to Ferla Bikes, which makes specialty bicycles including those for ice cream and coffee vendors. “We were out
there actually to visit my cousin. … I absolutely fell in love with the design of it and I could absolutely see this coming together. Then by May [2019] we were ready to go.”

Going through the permitting process last year was both fun and eye opening, MaryFaye says.

“The City of Naperville didn’t actually have a category for us. They didn’t know whether we were a food truck or just a pushcart, so we kind of put them in a tough spot,” she said. “But it was cool working with them trying to figure out where do we fit in.”

While they can customize the menu for an event, the Marys sell mainly prepackaged novelties. Sweet Mary’s gets its ice cream from a Blue Bunny distributor, which delivers to their home in the Tamarack Fairways neighborhood. “They show up with a giant ice cream freezer to our house and unload a bunch of boxes and we keep them here in our freezers,” MaryFaye says.

Typically, the weekends for Sweet Mary’s means working events such as birthday parties and car parades. The weekdays are spent visiting neighborhoods and parks, with the Marys announcing the day’s locations on Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s kind of actually been a pretty good summer because we’ve been able to do a lot of those car parades,” MaryFaye said. “Sweet Mary’s is kind of set up perfectly to be a more social distancing thing in the fact that we
can come to you and we’re all outside, in open air.”

As more places continue to open, they are booking more events, including some graduation parties scheduled for August. The business has expanded beyond Naperville too, with events taking place in Woodridge, Warrenville, Aurora, and Romeoville. The sisters have even seen the business inspire others. Two brothers Frannie and MaryFaye babysit created their own business plan after seeing the Sweet Mary’s bike.

“It was so cute seeing how inspiring this cart can be and how motivating
it is to get kids moving and to get them thinking about how they could have their own business and be entrepreneurs,” MaryFaye said. “And that was a really cool.”

Photos courtesy Sweet Mary’s Ice Cream