Putting the “local” in Local Apple Cart: Meet Rachel Nally, Fort Wayne’s ice cream entrepreneur

At age 11, Rachel Nally was already in the entrepreneurial spirit. Back then, she had dreams of being a graphic designer, so she put her skills to the test. Using a Barbie design program, Nally created a flier of coupons to sell to local businesses.

“Now that I think about it, I was an entrepreneur back then, too,” says Nally.

A restaurant owner in her Cleveland neighborhood, Tom Loves To Cook, was her first customer. 

“This guy orders like 3,000 of these things,” recalls Nally. “It took two weeks to print off and so many boxes of printer paper. I had to cut each one of these things individually. I had my friends cut. We made nothing, but it was a good learning experience.”

Rachel Nally, owner of Local Apple Cart, makes an ice cream cone.
Currently, Nally is the entrepreneur behind the Local Apple Cart, a food truck turned permanent vendor at the Union Street Market. The Local Apple Cart is known for its made-in-house ice cream, which is often infused with locally grown fruits. 

While Nally has a long history with ice cream, the Local Apple Cart wasn’t always intended to be the ice cream shop it is now. 

Her first job was at the Apple Cart, a Cleveland ice cream joint in her childhood neighborhood that got its name by starting as an actual apple cart during the Great Depression. Over the years, it has served as a burger joint and a malt shop, too. Surviving in one of Cleveland’s poorest communities for a century, the ice cream shop was a staple in Nally’s upbringing. She walked past it on her way to school, and her family would visit the shop often.

“It was just those moments where everything else was chaotic, but we’re together when we go to Apple Cart and life is okay,” she recalls.

Local Apple Cart Owner Rachel Nally makes an ice cream cone.
As a teen, Nally was offered a job at the Apple Cart, and she fell in love with the dessert industry.

When she relocated to Fort Wayne, Nally contemplated opening her own ice cream shop but was strongly discouraged by locals insisting that Fort Wayne already had its ice cream shops, and the people here were too dedicated to support a new one. So she put her ice cream dreams on pause.

Then, in 2019, Nally decided she wanted an apple tree. After some research, she discovered that for an apple tree to produce apples, she would need two apple trees, which would ultimately leave her with more apples than she knew what to do with.

In conversation with friends, someone suggested Nally sell apples at the farmers market.
Rachel Nally is the entreprenuer behind Local Apple Cart, which makes all its ice cream in-house with local ingredients.
“It's pretty much the starting ground of where the business came from, a conversation with friends,” says Nally. “I thought that if I was going to sell apples at the farmers market, they better be good apples, like caramel and candied and all these delicious things.”

Her idea was quickly put on pause by the Board of Health. It was 2020, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, licenses for in-home businesses were no longer being issued. 

“In 2019 when this idea was thought of, it was a feasible thing I could do on the weekends while still working my 40-hour-a-week job,” she says. “Well, I didn’t actually start the project until 2020.”

Nally would need a store or food truck to continue. After looking into the cost, she felt those options were out of reach.

“I gave up for about 10 minutes,” she says. “My budget went from about $150 to start, to tens of thousands of dollars to start.”

As fate and personalized ads would have it, she started seeing advertisements and articles on her phone about how to start a food truck, or how to build a food truck yourself. The serendipity didn’t stop there. While scrolling through Facebook Marketplace, Nally found the specific generator a food truck would need to run a soft serve ice cream machine, and it was a great price.

On a whim, she decided to buy the generator and told herself that if she ended up not building a food truck, she would simply sell the generator for a profit and move on.

Rachel Nally's ice cream truck before modifications.
Her strategy proved fruitful. Nally was able to fully fund her food truck by buying and selling equipment. Within three months of buying that first generator, she had a truck ready to be modified. 

Nally said it only felt right to name her business after the place that first made her fall in love with the industry. She made a call to the Apple Cart in Cleveland and with their blessing, Nally’s truck would be named the Local Apple Cart. 

The Local Apple Cart started making appearances around Fort Wayne in 2020, selling soft serve ice cream, lemonade and fruits. Nally says even though she was convinced that ice cream might not sell very well on her truck, she felt it was important to have it to honor the namesake. 

“It didn’t make sense to not have that piece of home in there,” says Nally. 

Ice cream toppings on display at Local Apple Cart in the Union Street Market.Including that piece of home proved to be a good decision for the Local Apple Cart.

“I thought my bestsellers were going to be apples,” she says. “Well, it wasn’t. It was ice cream, which is what I wanted it to be, but I was told I couldn’t do it.”

So Nally shifted her focus from apples and fruits to ice cream. The ice cream was selling so well that the Local Apple Cart would often sell out at events, but she was determined to find a solution. Her truck could only store so much pre-made ice cream mix for the soft serve machines, and she discovered there wasn’t a suitable solution involving the pre-made mixes. 

Nally decided that the best option would be to make her ice cream in-house. That way, anywhere she went with the truck, as long as she was within driving distance of a grocery store, she would be able to make more ice cream. 

Ice cream on display at Local Apple Cart.The Local Apple stays true to the “local” in its name. All ice cream is made in-house, from local dairy products and locally grown fruits. It only uses cream from cows that are within 70 miles of Fort Wayne, too.

“There’s a secret to it,” says Nally. “The fresher the cream, the better the ice cream. The fresher the ingredients, the better the ice cream.”

When Nally saw the announcement asking for vendor applications for Electric Work’s Union Street Market, she applied with no second thought. While the application and interview process was long, she says the Local Apple Cart was meant to be there.

The Local Apple Cart food truck parked outside the Electric Works campus.“I didn’t even give it a thought,” she says. “It was like the universe was telling me.”

After Nally finalized plans to be a vendor in the market, she found a way to incorporate the market’s alcohol licenses into her shop. Through many attempts, she’s figured out how to make alcohol-infused ice cream. Nally says it was worth the trial and error. Local Apple Cart is the only ice cream shop within a three-hour drive that sells alcohol-infused ice cream.

An alcohol infused ice cream treat at Local Apple Cart.
You can find the Local Apple Cart in the West Hall at Union Street Market, 1622 Broadway Ave, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., and on Sundays, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.