How a Los Angeles tattoo artist found happiness with a frozen dessert from his hometown – Daily News



After the sudden death of his older brother, Lemeir Mitchell decided to finally pursue his lifelong ambition so he packed up his bags, said goodbye to his native Philadelphia and headed out of town, determined to do whatever it would take to become a tattoo artist in Los Angeles.

But things didn’t quite work out that way for Mitchell, who instead of inking skin has found happiness in selling frozen treats.

Mitchell has driven around Southern California for the past three years selling water ice, a slushie/sorbet-like treat that’s a Philly classic from his two Happy Ice trucks, which, like his desserts, are splashed with all sorts of bright colors and rainbows,

While his trucks continue to roll around the region, from Los Angeles to Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, Mitchell has planted deeper dessert roots in L.A. with the opening of his first brick-and-mortar shop, also called Happy Ice.

That’s where he sells flavors like Mango Madness, Cherry Bomb, Blueberry Blast and Rainbow Rocket, the latter of which is all of the flavors on the menu mixed in a cup with a result that looks like a full rainbow.

“The way I explain Happy Ice is, imagine if ice cream, sorbet and shaved ice made a baby, it would be Happy Ice. It has the creamy texture of ice cream; it has all the fruit flavors or sorbet and it’s refreshing like shaved ice,” said the tattooed 28-year-old a few days before the opening of his shop on Melrose Avenue in late June.

“With this pandemic and everything, everybody is stuck in the house with their kids and people want to just get their kids out of the house for something, and Happy Ice has become that destination because the kids love the rainbow cup, they love taking pictures with the truck. It’s a whole experience…I hope that same hype will come to the store, and I’m sure it will,” added Mitchell, who made opening day even more memorable by proposing to his girlfriend as their young daughter looked on.

Lemeir Mitchell, 28, left, proposes to his girlfriend, Danielle, as their daughter, Summer, watches during the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Lemeir Mitchell, 28, proposes to his girlfriend, Danielle, as he celebrates the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

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Lemeir Mitchell, 28, left, poses with his business partner, Ted Foxman, in front of wall art for their new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Lemeir Mitchell, 28, poses in front of wall art for his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Lemeir Mitchell, 28, poses in front of wall art for his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Friends and family of Lemeir Mitchell, 28, gathered for the opening of his new shop, Happy Ice, which is selling water ice, a Philadelphia speciality, in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The new place on Melrose Avenue was founded by Mitchell, a tattoo artist who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia after his brother’s death. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

The shop is located right in front of the spot where he first parked his truck years ago and, like his trucks and his water ice, it also pops with color.

The bright light blue storefront is emblazoned with the words “Happy Life Happy Ice.” The door handle is in the shape of a watermelon slice, and inside, rainbows and fruits painted line the bright blue walls.

While Mitchell’s vibe is all about bright colors and happiness, the journey to become a dessert pioneer wasn’t always a happy one.

From Philly to L.A.

Mitchell is one of 13 siblings who grew up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood.

When he was 10 years old, his father was sentenced to life in prison for murder and as one of the eldest siblings he realized he had to grow up quickly and help set an example for his other brothers and sisters.

“Since my dad was arrested, I basically took over that father figure role so I’ve been taking care of my brothers and sisters for a long time,” Mitchell said.

He was especially close to his older brother Kevin, who was set to become the first in his family to graduate from college before he was killed in a motorcycle accident a week before his graduation.

“When he passed away it really showed me that you can’t take life for granted and tomorrow isn’t promised,” Mitchell said.

He had been working as a tattoo artist in Philadelphia for a few years and he always told his brother Kevin he wanted to move to L.A. So two weeks after his brother’s funeral in 2015, he packed it all up and headed west.

“I grew up in a rough neighborhood; growing up I lost a lot of friends, my dad got incarcerated and I just wanted something new. I had big dreams and I knew I wanted to chase it and my brother’s passing was the final straw that pushed me to do it,” he said.

After the cross-country move, he quickly got a gig at a tattoo shop on Melrose Avenue, where he often slept overnight to save money.

A taste of home

Living in L.A., Mitchell discovered the city’s food truck culture and was struck by inspiration —since he couldn’t find the frozen delicacy of water ice here, he decided to introduce Southern California to the Philadelphia treat.

After calling his mom, who enthusiastically backed his idea, Mitchell took his life savings and and a few months after first arriving in L.A. he went back to Philadelphia where he had some connections.

Back home, he took lessons on how to make water ice from Fred Cooper who owned Fred’s Water Ice, the place where Mitchell would get the icy treat as a kid. Cooper even gave Mitchell his 40-year-old water ice recipe to use for his Happy Ice truck.

And after learning the craft from the local expert, Mitchell bought a truck, shipped it back to L.A. and in September 2017 he parked on Melrose Avenue right in front of the spot that would become the future shop.

While he didn’t make a lot of money on his first day, Mitchell was ecstatic about the reaction he got from the customers who tried Happy Ice.

“It was like the best $400 we ever made and from there we started to build a brand,” he said.

With a social media post-worthy truck and bright delicious looking cups of the frozen dessert, Mitchell quickly blew up on the internet, and has now amassed more than 70,000 followers on his Instagram account.

Last year, his truck was also featured on an episode of  “Do Good Daniels,” a digital series on Ellen DeGeneres’ Ellentube channel.

That was around the time investor and restaurateur Ted Foxman walked by the truck on Melrose Avenue during a hot summer day with his friend and their respective daughters.

“It was like 95 degrees and as we were walking around dying for air conditioning somebody walked by with this vibrant colorful what appeared to be ice cream and I just had to track it down and we all absolutely loved it,” said the 45-year-old.

Foxman later hired the Happy Ice truck for a private event that included other food vendors.

“(Mitchell) showed up to the catering of my personal event and afterward he was the only one who came up to me, to find me and make sure he thanked me… And that really showed something about his character,” said Foxman, who then told Mitchell that if he ever wanted to partner up for something to reach out.

A few days later, Mitchell followed up and Foxman became his business partner in the new shop.

“I just knew it was a leap of faith I wanted to be on and one that he wanted to be on and it worked out great,” Foxman said.

Mitchell knows a lot of people have helped him achieve his success, including his mother who supported his idea from day one and business partner Foxman, who believed in his product after his first taste.

And he also has his older brother to thank.

“I like to think that my brother is definitely up there putting together the pieces for me, saying ‘I got you brother, I got you,’” he said.

Happy Ice

Where: 7324 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.

Hours: Open noon to 8 p.m. daily

Also: Two trucks park at different spots around Southern California.

Information: Happyicela.com or 215-432-5427