All last summer, Mrs. Delicious had a secret. This would be her last Hillfest, and her final Kaleidoscope events. She would never again pedal through the Rose Garden during the Wednesday Night Sailboat races — at least as Mrs. Delicious, which Stacey Achterhoff considers not an alter ego as much as an enhanced version of herself.
After seven summers, the ice cream peddler (and pedaler) — a balloon animal-making rainbow of a human known for cruising through events on her icicle tricycle — recently announced her retirement on Facebook.
It was one of those thoughtful, well-worded posts she has become as known for as her loot of Dreamsicles, mystery popsicles and Coconut Bliss Bars.
“This has been a most unexpected ride,” she wrote. “You have helped me establish a business founded in more joy than I could ever imagine.”
The response: comments galore, dozens of shares, more than 350 emojis, including more than 40 crying faces. She has developed fans — including Mayor Emily Larson, who described her as “truly the best of everything.”
“Her playful spirit, spreading joy and ice cream, always with a radiant smile, allowing people to ‘pay it forward’ and buy ice cream for others, riding around and saying hello to people she knows and those she doesn’t," Larson said. “Some people have a way of just making a day better. Mrs. Delicious is one of them.”
An ice cream peddler is born
Achterhoff long had a dream of selling food by bike, though in an early version of her plan, it was egg rolls. In 2012, a family tragedy and a high school reunion led her to think about community.
“I had to do something that slows people down and brings them together,” she said in a 2015 interview with the News Tribune.
That something was a vending-friendly Icicle Tricycle, purchased from a Portland, Oregon-based company. From there, she met people who helped with things ranging from bike maintenance to her signature colorful look to a logo.
As Mrs. Delicious, she pedaled around Downtown Duluth and at special events with a cooler of cold treats and the ability to turn a balloon into, say, a poodle or a flower.
“I really thought, ‘I’m just going to be this fun, girl-power lady on a tricycle selling Popsicles,” she said, but it didn’t take her long to find out this was about more. “We miss so many opportunities to be in relationships with each other," she said. "One thing that a 200-pound trike does — it slows you down. Especially in a city like Duluth.”
She smiled. She waved. She handed out treats. She became a familiar face.
“As I’m moving the trike from one end of Superior Street to the other and I’m going slow, it’s like — not only are you recognizable and you’re open and welcoming, but you’re going slow enough to have relationships with people. Lots of people," she said.
She also developed a friendship with another woman in the ice cream biz. Around the same time, Nicole Wilde of Love Creamery was still experimenting with her brand and working out of a cart. Mrs. Delicious would carry Love Creamery flavors and provide customer feedback. Sometimes, the two women were at the same events and sometimes, if they were both scheduled for the same thing, one would defer to the other.
Years later, it’s Wilde who is hosting the retirement party/fundraiser — at her brick and mortar shop.
“My ice cream is the brand, but she is the brand,” said Wilde. “It’s about who she is: This person who really cares about our community and is really pouring it out during her work through the regular school year and her work as Mrs. Delicious.”
Pay it forward
One of Mrs. Delicious' patrons suggested she develop a punch card system for ease of payment. An ice cream aficionado could pay in advance and not have to always have cash on hand.
The punch cards quickly evolved into a popular way to pay it forward.
People, some from nowhere near Duluth, would buy a punch card so Mrs. Delicious could offer free treats to strangers. Word spread. Soon, the bulk of her collection of punch cards were actually donations to the unsuspecting ice cream-less.
“What’s ironic to me is that it all started with me saying I’d ride around and give away ice cream for free. If I don’t make money, it’s fine,” Achterhoff said. She didn’t mean that other people would buy the ice cream for her.
Lucie Amundsen met Achterhoff in the pre-Mrs. Delicious days while she working on Friday Food Bag Program, which brings milk, fruit, cereal and more to kids who might not have food for the weekend.
"I got to watch Mrs. Delicious emerge from this interesting vantage point," Amundsen said. "And just knowing her background working with homeless youth, it's been wonderful to watch her do this incredibly joyous thing."
After two seasons on the trike, Achterhoff said, she had moved past the business details of supply and demand and keeping the stock from melting.
A Twin Cities-based television news station aired a story about Mrs. Delicious, and Achterhoff recalled seeing herself in the video. She’s standing in front of Sir Benedict’s talking to a friend and making a balloon animal.
“When I watch that part of the video, I feel like ‘That’s me. Mrs. Delicious,’” she said.
The Mrs. Delicious Facebook page started as a place to announce where she would be peddling and became a place for thoughtful reflection. Achterhoff has kept an online journal of things seen, heard and learned and people — writing that also covers her work with families in transition in the Duluth Public School district. She has nearly 5,000 followers.
She wrote about hitting a festival in the Central Hillside when all of the ice cream had been paid for in advance by strangers.
She wrote about a regular from near the library who sometimes asks for a hug or prayers, but on this one day asked if he could sketch her.
And sometimes it’s a just a mini tale of getting passed a bunch of garlic at a festival in Ely.
It's also where she announced her retirement.
“When she said she was retiring, I was really sad,” Wilde said. “I get why she’s doing it, 100%. She has a lot of talents, and she’s a really smart person who has a lot of other things she wants to do in life as well.”
Writing — and a summer road trip with her teenage daughters — are now her focus. Achterhoff has been working with an editor to craft a memoir that is already memoir-length. She will try to get it published, she said, but she’s also fine with writing it, putting it in a shoebox in her closet, and letting her daughters find it.
"She has taken all these observations and then crafts these beautiful Facebook posts that are both poignant but also somehow leave you feeling uplifted at the end," said Amundsen, whose memoir, "Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — from Scratch," was released in 2017.
Achterhoff said of course she will miss the trike, which she will eventually sell, and the people. She loved every part of the business, including just standing in the cold storage and loading her cooler.
“People who know the business know it’s about more that the ice cream,” she said. “That part of me isn’t going away. The part of me that spoke at a (recent) school board meeting, that part of me that takes care of people and will fight for equality and justice and the rights of kids and families, the part of me that tries to live in a way that shows we need to treat people with kindness and respect and humanity — that isn’t going to end.”
Since the dawn of Mrs. Delicious, Achterhoff’s first ice cream gig of the season has always been the last day of school at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School, where she is based during the school year. She would trot out the trike and deliver ice cream to the students.
It’s something the students talk about and look forward to.
Now, in a post-trike world, Achterhoff plans to still bring the ice cream. All the sales from her party will go toward an end-of-the-year ice cream party for the students at Myers-Wilkins.
If you go
What: Celebration of Mrs. Delicious
When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Love Creamery, 1908 W. Superior St.
Money made from ice cream sales will go to an ice cream party for students at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School.