Airstream trailers add to nostalgic feeling By Pratt Farmer
“Don’t live in the past or future. Make History. Get enjoyment out of little things. Treat everyone nice.” Those words were penned by Wally Byam back in the 1920s. Wally loved to camp, but his wife wasn’t so fond of sleeping on the ground. Necessity being the mother of invention led Byam to design a little trailer they could use for camping. He later added a stove and ice chest.
They enjoyed it so much he decided that “it might be a pretty good business to be in,” so he founded what is still known today as Airstream. The Airstream design has changed little over the past century. Its iconic stainless steel-riveted exterior and compact interior is known the world over. The Airstream trailers in Seaside, lined along an Airstream Row facing 30A, sell America’s favorite foods, including hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, shave ice and barbecue.
An Airstream trailer made its debut in Seaside on Tupelo Street when Tom Stein, general manager at the time, used one as an office for a while. The first Airstream to offer food sold Hawaiian shave ice. Frost Bites, which opened around 1999, had been on the south side of 30A in what is now the Ono shop. It was decided by the owner at the time, Case Cooper, that a tiny trailer would be better for the product and a corner lot facing 30A would be the perfect location. So, he convinced Seaside co-founders Robert and Daryl Davis that an almost antique Airstream was a perfect statement for such an eclectic little town. The 1955 Airstream model known as the Bambi, a small single-axle trailer, was purchased and set on the lot. Frost Bites had a new home. Cooper had a new hobby that turned into another business. He has become well-known for buying and renovating Airstreams.
Then in 2003, Mike Gullett came down for a wedding. While here he learned that Frost Bites was for sale. Gullett and his wife, Chance, purchased what would truly become a family business. “We loved Seaside and this little shave ice business was the perfect reason for us to put down roots of sorts,” Chance says.
“It was only fitting because Seaside is all about families,” Mike adds. Today, Frost Bites is run by the Gullett’s daughter, Charity Price, and it should be noted that even Chance’s 80-year-old mom has taken a turn at the shaver over the years.
“Seaside is about making memories and our contribution has been to challenge kids (and maybe some adults) to suggest a concoction of flavors which they can name. If we like the flavor and the name, we may just add it to our list,” Chance says.
The two most outstanding concoctions in their 20 years of owning Frost Bites has to be Off the Hook and Chicken Lips. In 2010, then seven-year-old Collin Kita from North Little Rock, Arkansas suggested a blend of watermelon, orange and pink lemonade which he named Off the Hook. “It was an instant hit,” says Chance.
“We couldn’t believe it. Long after that, we continued to sell Off the Hook, so we added it to our list of permanent flavors. The girl that named hers Chicken Lips did so because the red apple and cherry-flavored ice would turn her lips very red,” says Mike. That girl is now in college and she still drops by for a Chicken Lips.
“We even have brides who leave the Seaside chapel and come over for a shave ice in their wedding dress, if only for a moment reliving their childhood at Seaside,” Chance says.
Due to its compact design, the Airstream is a perfect choice for Seaside food purveyors. Barefoot BBQ was an early adopter of the Airstream food concept as well. Owners Jenny and James (Murph) Murphy opened Barefoot BBQ in 2009. “We first approached Seaside about opening a barbecue restaurant in one of the storefronts. There were no vacant spaces, but Daryl Davis suggested that we consider adapting our business plan to operate from an Airstream trailer,” Murph says.
“One of the interesting things about the trailers was that they forced efficiency. We couldn’t waste napkins, plates or anything really because operating in such tight confines required us to think about what we were doing every step of the way,” Jenny adds.
“I had only seen one Airstream in my life and that was in a storage yard in the same facility where I had a few hundred bottles of wine stored,” Murph says, adding that he took a tape measure and proceeded to take measurements of that trailer to see what he might have to work with.
“I felt that we could pull it off and we opened our tiny restaurant in April 2009, and within weeks we both knew we had a winning formula,” says Jenny.
“We have come to know our customers, many of whom return year after year. When they walk up to the window and I am there, they want to catch up on what’s been happening in their little town. I have always been amazed at how many people truly think of Seaside as their home away from home,” Murph says.
Even today, he still opens the restaurant Monday through Friday. “I love that we are a part of such a tight knit community, even though many travel for hundreds of miles just for spring break or summer vacation. Yet, distance doesn’t separate us. It’s the magic that is Seaside,” he says.
Today there are several Seaside food purveyors with Airstream trailers. No doubt each of these have a story to tell. We bet Wally Byam would be proud to see so many people stop by an Airstream, peering inside as hot dogs cook on a stove or an ice box holds a heaping block of ice ready for the next Chicken Lips shave ice to be served.
Byam was right. “Don’t live in the past or future. Make History. Get enjoyment out of little things. Treat everyone nice.” It’s time for a Chicken Lips.