Zach Fortner says his grandfather, Dan Fortner, as “MacGyver’s dad.” He wasn’t afraid to try new things, and, in 1974, that included introducing a pineapple-flavored soft serve to fair-goers as part of his concession business. That fairground treat would eventually win fans throughout the Ozarks and launch a business spanning three generations.
It probably wouldn’t have happened if Zach’s grandfather (who died in 2018) wasn’t joined by sons Chris and Mike, Zach’s father. The first independent stand got its start when customers started asking for the treat outside the fair. Today, there are four trucks: three that park in specific Springfield lots in the summer and one that travels to events.
Fortner doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t hanging around Pineapple Whip trucks. As might be expected in a family business, pumping his grandfather's signature soft serve treats for customers was his first summer job. After earning a college degree in finance (“which is what every ice cream man needs,” he jokes), Fortner worked in banking for 10 years. He joined the family business at his father’s request, shortly before his father died in 2014. Zach has since been running it with his uncle and his mother, Diana—and now with his younger brother Anthony Fortner, who recently joined the business.
In the 1980s, grape-flavored whip was added to the mix of flavors, and today the company serves six different options. The Fortners don’t mess with success, however. Fortner says that Pineapple Whip is still made according to the same recipe his grandfather originally used more than 40 years ago. But it's only in the last 10 to 15 years that Pineapple Whip has become a self-sustaining company, and not just another part of the family's former, larger concession business.
For Fortner, leaving a salaried position was a huge leap but not one he regrets. As simple as the product seems, it takes more than just filling a cup. It takes patience to build a customer base, he says. Like all businesses, it requires meeting payroll, balancing books, paying taxes—all tasks that fall to Fortner.
He’s found both perks and challenges to co-owning a family business like Pineapple Whip. With small children, working all summer isn’t easy. “There are days I’d wake up before the sun and I’d be home after [my daughter] was asleep.” On the flip side, if his kids get sick during the colder months, he says he has the flexibility to take care of them while his wife works.