Working in the restaurant business has its ups and downs, and anyone who has ever worked with a soft serve ice cream machine can tell you at least one great story of “the time the machine froze:”
It was three thirty, smack in the middle of lunch and dinner. If we were lucky we wouldn’t get a lot of business right now, giving us time to stock and clean.
“Abigail, the ice cream machine is making noise,” Devon called.
I dropped what I was doing and listened. I could hear a faint*Scrape, scrape, scrape. The mix must be low, causing the blades to scrape around inside of the hopper. Just put the machine on Wash, throw in some mix, and it’d be fine.
I took off the lids to the basin. Full to the brim. Weird. I pulled the right lever. Nothing came out. I pulled the left lever. Nothing. Grabbing a straw, I inserted the tip up the spout. Usually this worked to dislodge whatever was frozen and the rest would flow freely.
Drive-Thru was picking up with several shakes on screen. Three employees leaned over my shoulder, waiting for the verdict.
“Great,” I mumbled under my breath. “I’m gonna have to take it to the back.” The straw lay bent and crumpled, dripping with frozen ice cream. This problem was a lot bigger than I had imagined.
Customers sighed as I dragged the monster across Front Counter, opting for the refund we offered. Navigating the mammoth through the kitchen, pushing carts out of the way and warning potential road-kill to clear off, I finally made it to the mop sink.
I removed the four giant hand screws that keep the levers attached. I pulled out the whole front panel, exposing the frozen ice cream. If the machine were running normally, pulling off the front panel would unleash boocoos of ice cream, splashing to the floor like an ocean wave.
My sister was poised with a clean bucket, ready to salvage what ice cream may come, but when I pulled off the panel, nothing happened. The blades stayed put, frozen to the sides by rock-hard ice cream. I just wanted to roll over and die.
Ariel held the bucket as I yanked the blades with all my might. After finally pulling them out, and probably developing frost-bitten fingers in the process, I waited for the full ice cream basins to leak out. Still nothing came.
I’d never seen it so frozen before! The lube on the front had turned to ice. I didn’t even bother taking out the two metal rods which sat in the receptacle, regulating flow. It was so frozen that they were probably stuck anyways.
“What do I do now?” I asked in frustration.
“Look, a tiny bit of ice cream leaded out and…” Ariel touched it. “It’s freezing to the sides.”
“The thing’s way too cold. I wish we had a hair dryer.”
“We have hot water.”
A second later I was shooting streams of hot water into the freezing chambers. Hopefully whatever was blocking the flow would dislodge and allow free the ice cream.
I didn’t exactly get the result I expected. Water shot in but it sprayed all the way through the compartment, up the regulating rods, and created a little fountain, showering myself and several cardboard boxes, with steaming hot water.
What was going on? Obviously the flow wasn’t blocked, or I wouldn’t have gotten soaked. I sighed and stared hopelessly at the floor, covered in ice cream and water. I knew good and well that no one else on shift knew how to deal with this machine as well as I did, so I did the only next step I could think of. I pulled out the regulating rods.
Ice cream rocketed out. I thrust a bucket under the stream, trying to avoid any more mess. A scream of delight (albeit a quiet one) erupted from my lips.
But that was so weird. The rods had never blocked the flow so completely before. I had to learn how to turn that temperature down.
I consulted my tablet, searching online for a manual or something that would tell me how to fix this thing. Fortunately one of the morning managers was still in and pointed me to a secret panel on the front. She removed the who screws which held the protective plate in front. A mess of lights and buttons and… strange looking computer parts stared at me. There was nothing in our training about this. How was I supposed to find out which knob it was to turn?
Eventually I found a little dial labeled “S.S. viscosity, shake mix temp.” This had to be the one. I had no idea what temperature the machine was supposed to be set at. I guessed.
Reassembling the machine was a chore I was familiar with. Finally I got the machine back into place, plugged in, turned on, and whirring happily. I just prayed I hadn’t turned the temperature too high.
Almost a half an hour later I came back to check on the machine. I checked the right lever. Nothing. Came. Out.
“YOU’RE KIDDING ME!”
There was NO way it could be frozen again! Not at all! I checked the metal rods. Perhaps something was keeping the ice cream from flowing through the hopper. Sure enough, the little hole, which is supposed to be down in the machine allowing the ice cream to flow inside of the rod, was facing up to the air. Oops.
I gave it another twenty minutes.
Hallelujah! Ice cream flowed beautifully!
Back at the mop sink to my sister was cleaning up my giant mess. After thanking her I mentioned, “Oh, you asked earlier if the hole on the rods went up or down. I just figured it out. They go down or else they block the flow.”
“Oh,” she said, her face changing. “Someone had pulled them out earlier. I thought they went in with the holes up. I froze the machine.”