Hamilton’s famous ice cream man, Mr. Yum, is retiring after 41 years

It’s been 41 long and satisfying years for Steve Tsilijanos, better known as Mr. Yum the Ice Cream Man.

Steve has been a staple in the Lower Town since he bought his first ice cream truck in 1981.

Now, the 73-year-old said he’s passing the cone on to the new owners and going into retirement.

Steve told CBC Hamilton that he asked his son, Terry, to announce his retirement on Facebook earlier this week.

Steve said he’s received a flood of messages from Hamiltonians of all ages, sharing their happy memories of getting Mr. Yum ice cream.

Terry said the response was “modest”.

Terry said some of his father’s best clients were local dogs, like Mara pictured here, looking for a puppy cup. He said that when the familiar dogs hear Mr. Yum’s birth, they come running. (Provided by Terry Celiganos)

“He was always trying to spread a little cheer and a little ice cream wherever he was,” he said.

Steve said he watched some of the children he served in the 1980s grow up to be parents and grandparents.

He said, “They grew up with me. It’s like family.”

A classic immigrant story

Steve said he immigrated from Crete, Greece, to Hamilton in 1973. He began working at Burlington, making blades for a chain saw factory, and later said he worked for International Harvester in Hamilton until 1985.

Steve said he bought his first ice cream truck, Snow Daddy, in 1981.

He used to do his rounds in it after work and on the weekends.

Terry said he didn’t know how his father managed to juggle a full-time job, the ice cream business and raising four kids — but he did.

“It’s your classic immigrant story, isn’t it?” Terry said. “hard work.”

People stand around an ice cream truck.
Before he owned Mr. Yum’s truck, Tsiliganos owned a 1950s truck called Snow Daddy. (Provided by Terry Celiganos)

Terry said that much of his childhood was spent with his father in an ice cream truck, walking around town eating ice cream.

Growing up, Terry started working for his father, which included running a fleet of Mr. Yum-branded ice cream bikes.

“I make people ask, ‘Why didn’t you take over the family business?'” “And honestly, this song, I still hear it in my nightmares. I’ve been hearing it every day for years and years.”

The ice cream truck was such a big part of Terry’s childhood that he and his siblings were referred to as Yumlings.

“It was a nickname around the house,” Terry said. “You wouldn’t say Dad, you could call him Mr. Yum.”

People dressed up for a wedding in front of an ice cream truck.
Mr. Yum’s truck has been such an important part of the Tsiliganos family’s life that Tsiliganos’ daughter is pictured here getting ice cream after her wedding in 1997. (Provided by Terry Celiganos)

Steve said the most important thing to him in all his years serving ice cream was making the kids happy.

One way he said he did was to make sure that kids without money didn’t feel left out.

“You don’t have money? It’s okay,” he said, adding that he used his advice to offset the cost of his freebies.

“I have my kids and I understand.”

Steve will spend retirement with friends

Terry said it took his father years to retire.

“We’ve tried to get him to retire a few times and he’s like, ‘What am I going to do?'” Terry said. “

Steve said operating an ice cream truck was hard work, even if it wasn’t the case.

“You get up in the morning, and sometimes you work [until] 10, 11 at night, “It’s long hours. You have a lot of stress, you know?”

Little girl standing in front of Mr. Yum's truck with a cone of chocolate and vanilla.  She is smiling.
Ceairra Mercuri posed this photo of her younger sister, Gracie, enjoying a round cone in 2018. (Provided by Sierra Mercury)

Steve said he recently sold a snow truck to Mr. Yum. The new owners are from Toronto and own several other trucks.

As part of the deal, Steve said they are allowed to keep Mr. Yum’s name on the truck as long as they keep the business in Hamilton “because everyone knows who Mr. Yum is.”

Steve said he’s been trying to keep himself busy since his wife died five years ago, but he’s ready to spend more time on his interests and stop working.

He said he loves hunting and fishing. Steve said he plans to spend some of his retirement time in northern Ontario and some looking after his family’s olive groves in Crete.

“I just need good company, good friends and that’s it.”

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