Mo’s Ice Cream!

By Heather Aveson  |  It’s as timeless as running through the sprinkler, catching fireflies and lazing the day away in a hammock.

The Ice cream truck is an all-American icon. Here in Lexington, the ice cream truck has reached super-star proportions, known simply as Mo’s. Young and old, we all know Mo.

Muhammad Shuheiber, is the legal name behind the smiling man handing out frozen treats by the pool, baseball games and town events. He started out as Mohammad. “I’ve been called Mo all my life, I wanted to be something different,” he says. So he changed his name to Muhammad. But, Mo stuck with him and it seems it always will.

Getting a Start

Mo first came to the US in 1986 from his family’s farm in Jordan. “I came looking for a good education. Our dad worked so hard in his life. The farm our dad left us wasn’t enough. It was a hard life.” he recalls. Mo brought that work ethic with him to Boston. He attended both Salem State and Bunker Hill Community College. Working all the time to support himself and to pay for his education. He made pizzas at the well-known Captain Nemo’s in Kenmore Square, then at the Prudential Center’s Ground Round, he worked his way up from cook to Kitchen Manager/Trainer. “In 1993 they closed to remodel – they offered me to go to another place or get laid off. Because my education was important to me I couldn’t travel, so I got laid off.” he remembers.

That got Mo thinking about working for himself. He bought an old post office van and started selling ice cream out of the back. From the right hand driver side to the empty back lacking any freezers it wasn’t the ideal truck, but Mo made it work. Every day started early picking up blocks of dry ice in Everett to fill coolers and then buying and stocking ice cream treats before heading out onto the streets.

Mo with his famous Sundae Cup

In the spring of 1994 Mo was finishing up classes and driving the truck. It turned out to be the perfect situation. “I had classes two days a week and I took the truck to college. After class I opened it up for all my classmates. They loved it.” Mo remembers with his signature smile.

Mo loved it too. So after graduating with a degree in Computer Information Science, he stuck with it and he’s never looked back. “I graduated, I loved it, I loved the kids.”

Mo’s first full time route was in Burlington. Lexington had been without an ice cream for a while and a local baseball coach he knew thought Mo could change that. So, he spent Memorial Day weekend in town 11 years ago and loved it, so did his customers. “People signed a petition during the weekend. They took the petition to the town and it was approved. I’ve been here every since.”

Kids of All Ages

But just what makes Mo’s ice cream so special? In a word, Mo. As we talk outside the pool, Jasinda Priest and Natalie Maglio, both entering 8th grade here in Lexington approach the truck. Mo greets them by name and as he reaches into the freezer I ask them about the draw of Mo’s truck. Natalie’s been visiting Mo since 2nd grade. “Mo’s pretty awesome and that makes everything taste better.” Jasinda adds, “I think after the pool everybody wants ice cream.” Within a few minutes, Jaime Lehoux, age 6, and her mom find their way to the truck. Jaime and Mo greet each other like the old friends they are. He asks about her family and her swim lessons. Today, Jaime is going with the watermelon ice and she tells me, “It tastes better here because it comes from Mo.” And how long have they been friends? “I always know Mo.”

Young or old, the sound of an ice cream truck’s bell reaches kids of all ages. On this day, Mo has a date at the Lexington Health Care Center on Lowell St. Dana Nichols is the Director of Nursing. For several years she’s been bringing Mo’s Ice Cream to the Center for family days, staff appreciation celebrations and resident visits. “I have to tell you, you’ll never meet anyone like Mo. When you have dementia, you might forget me, or you, but you never forget the sound of the ice cream truck. Mo touches them, he talks to them, he reminisces with them. It’s a really special day for them when Mo’s here.”

Family

While Mo was busy building a business, both he and his family back in Jordan were beginning to wonder about the rest of his life. “I was 35. I needed a wife. I wanted a house and a family. I couldn’t do that working for someone else. I did this in the summer and drove a cab in the winter.” So on a visit home in 1996 his family arranged for him to meet a young woman from his village. The families had known each other for years and Mohammad met his wife.

They left Jordan as a newly married couple in August of 1996 and returned to the Boston area. Their first child was born the next June. Even with a new grandchild to show off, he and his wife stayed in the US while she studied for her citizenship exam, which Mo recounts with great pride, she passed easily.

By the time they returned to Jordan for the first time, they brought four grandchildren with them. Their families were ecstatic. “They thought it was the best thing ever.”

Life continued for the family living in Malden with a growing family and Mo working the truck in the summer and driving a taxi in the winter. But after September 11, things changed. “My wife was wearing a veil and when she took the kids to the park she felt fingers pointing at her, she felt discomfort. So she started going to a different park,” Mo says. The experience was a blow to the family. “We’re talking about US citizens here.”

A year later, Mo brought his family back to Jordan to live. He built them a house near the farm he grew up on so they’d be close to friends and relatives. Mo visits for extended periods at the end of the summer and during the heart of the winter. “They miss the beauty of this country. We don’t have this in Jordan. My oldest son is 15 now. Next year, he’ll probably come here and go to high school.”

All the Bells and Whistles

Mo gives me a tour of his current truck. You could say it’s the Cadillac of Ice Cream Trucks. A long way from packing dry ice into coolers, the freezers are fitted with cold plates, which provide three inches of insulation using stainless steel walls filled with coolant piping. Just plug the truck in overnight and the plates stay cold throughout the hottest summer day. The truck also has a pizza oven, a coffee maker and hot dog steamer. But don’t expect an expanded menu any time soon. “I’ll never use those. It’s too hot to keep anything cooking in here.” Mo says shaking his head.

Inside the three icy freezers are the classic ice cream novelties of my childhood, the King Cone, Creamsicle, and Ice Cream sandwich. But tastes change and Mo keeps up with the times. “Every year there are different themes and cartoons. You keep up with the cartoons and listen to what the kids want.” But there are some treats that Mo won’t carry. “The Star Wars, look at it, it has too much coloring in it.” Imagine an ice cream on a stick that’s mostly Darth Vader’s black helmet. Why would you even do that to ice cream? Then there are the ones Mo just can’t understand and can’t imagine anyone wanting. “How can you sell an ice cream called Frozen Toes? In the shape of a foot? I would never carry that. Who do you think would be licking on toes?” I’ve got to agree with him.

So what are his top sellers? Well, there’s a reason they call them classics. Mo says it’s King Cones for the adults, and Italian Ice for everyone with the Bomb Pop coming in a close second. Mo’s favorite? Well it’s another classic. “Mo’s Sunday Special” – a purist’s dream. A few scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, complete with cherry and for that final touch “colored jimmies”. Take my word for it, delish!

Hazy Days of Summer Yes, Lazy No

He may not have to pick up and pack dry ice, but the days still start early and end late for Mo. During the summer months he’ll be at the pool by 8:30am and stay there until early evening when he moves around to the different ball fields or outdoor concerts, returning to the pool by 8:15 to catch his crowd as they leave on hot summer nights. Wait a minute, what about a day off? “My day off is when it rains or the pool closes because of thunder and lightning. It’s a short time during the summer. I have to make the most of it. So I get here by 8:30 and don’t leave until 9pm.” Time off will come when the pool closes and the chill in the air overcomes the desire for frozen treats. Then Mo will say good-bye to the children of Lexington and head home for a visit with his own children.

The long summer hours and time away from family is worth it. He gets so much pleasure from the kids he sees everyday and in return he plants childhood memories that can last a lifetime. And the lesson he teaches is universal.

“I know I’m not going to get rich, but I’m not alone. I’m making a living for my seven kids. I came to this country  “if you really want to work, you can work and you can make it.”

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