Jonathan Toledo, owner of Hyphy Iceez, serves cold slushies in his San Francisco neighborhood. (Alan Chazaro)
¡Hella Hungry! is a column about Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region’s culinary cultures through the mouth of a first-generation local.
I first heard the hyphy anthem “Tell Me When to Go” in 2006.
Back then, I was a freshman in community college and an active member of L.U.C.H.A., a student-led group for first-generation youth who organized protests and cultural events around campus and in surrounding Bay Area communities. After one late-night session, we all packed into the kitchen of a friend’s house in Redwood City for what quickly turned into a house party. The moon was out with dark clouds. One group member was wearing a luchador mask, shaking his skull and going wild to the bass, and somewhere there were bottles of Jose Cuervo and 1800.
Then, E-40’s ambassadorial voice: “I’m from the Bay where we hyphy and go dumb. From the soil where them rappers be getting their lingo from.”
I wasn’t the same person after that. My generation was shaped by Keak da Sneak and 40 Water’s declarations of vices and partying on My Ghetto Report Card. It defined an upbeat tempo for our region and instilled a pride we haven’t let go of since.
Very few Baydestrians represent that intersection in time more than Jonathan Toledo. Born in 1989, he is — in his own words — “the last of a dying breed.” A San Francisco-raised Filipino Mexican, the dude is a full-time father and Goodwill employee by day, and a creative foodmaker who supplies the vibes by night. Though I didn’t know Toledo growing up, he feels like a familiar soul — someone who could’ve been involved in my fledgling circle of friends.
Like so many of us during that time, Toledo grew up under the trunk-rattling guidance of the hyphy gods, learning how to maneuver his way through a ruthlessly gentrifying Bay Area landscape while still cultivating his roots. Now, he’s flipping his life experiences into a side business: Hyphy Iceez.
With homemade flavors like “Tell Me When to Mango,” “Mainey Manzana” and “The Lemon Ayyyyye,” the bootstrap operation has been popping up at various rec centers, family events and markets around the 415, 510 and 408 with Toledo’s signature “Iceez.”
As warm weather (theoretically) approaches our foggy horizon, Toledo will be outside serving up cold, slushy treats for kids and adults alike. Catch him pouring up his own variation of 18 dummy juice and handing out life lessons about the only place he’s ever called home: The Bay.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alan Chazaro: Where did you get the idea for Hyphy Iceez, and when did it launch?
Jonathan Toledo: Really, I started my first business in 2018 — The Hip Hop Bounce House. It’s a jumper with a bluetooth speaker and disco lights, a turn-up jumper (laughs). My first year was just about learning everything, and my second year I had plans to grow. But the pandemic hit, and that put a stop to it all. Throughout that time I started thinking about what else I could do business-wise. One day, I was kicking it at Dolores Park with my girl. It was warm outside and vendors were walking around selling coconuts and hella other things, and I was thinking it could be dope to have Icees out here — you know, frozen drinks. From there I applied my experience [gained] from the first business. Within four months of that moment, I had my very first [Icee] machine.
It sounds like you really had to pivot from your original plans. Where did it go from there, and how did you turn that into something bigger?
Around that time I was really on the drawing board with coming up with my new business name. I had some ideas, but when I thought of Hyphy Iceez, that was it. For me, it’s nostalgic. It’s about putting my twist on a classic, making it my own by adding a childhood staple to Bay Area culture. That’s how I got the business running and started. Then it was really just putting myself out there, doing pop-ups. I wouldn’t always be able to set up at an event, but I would sell outside on the sidewalks. Sometimes, they would invite me in because they would see people coming in with my drinks. I was consistent and persistent. From there my connection really built with different community organizations in San Francisco. It’s the biggest blessing to have that resource.
There’s always a lot of love. It’s not always about the sales, but just about the experience and making the most out of it. It’s always well received. It’s the Bay. We know hyphy. It’s a household name. It’s just about building unity regardless of what city or area you’re from. We just know how to turn it into a good time and create a positive experience. With everything in close proximity and accessible around the Bay — you got AC Transit, MUNI, BART — it’s important to get out and realize we’re all the same and the culture is everywhere.
Are there any community orgs who were particularly influential?
The Boys and Girls Club of SF. The Latino Task Force. Those are the two that were consistently big supporters. I’m always trying to give back when I can. I’ve had other nonprofits reach out to me and ask me to donate my services. Bro, I’m a super small business. That would be breaking the bank for me, I can’t even do that (laughs). But when I can, I try to hook them up in other ways. I’m a Director of Operations at Goodwill, so I can connect them and create opportunities, help them set up tables, provide job resources, things like that. If it doesn’t work out with the Iceez, the bigger picture is still to support the community.
You grew up in the Mission. How has that shaped you and your business ideas?
Growing up here, it’s full of hustlers. By hustlers I mean people who are going to go out and get it by any means, regardless. Find a way. Make it happen. Before I did any of this, when I was a teenager, I was stealing car radios, car speakers, and that was one of my first hustles. Selling bootleg CDs. Downloading everything off Limewire. If a CD came out, I’d write down the track list at Target and then go home and download it and sell it. That’s a hustler culture, a mentality. Seeing that in the Bay, and from my family, I had to find a way to apply that to something bigger. That was a large influence.
The other aspect is about remixing things and making it your own. The Bay been doing that. A lot of people have pulled inspiration out of Bay culture, right? Through that, you learn how to align yourself and keep it authentic. It’s how we grew up — being able to keep it going and lit for future generations. One of my ultimate goals, bro, is to open up a storefront with a whole hyphy theme. But realistically that might not happen in California.
You went from stealing car radios as a youth to becoming a regional director for Goodwill? That’s major. What’s your blueprint for success?
Right now, I oversee the main warehouse and transportation fleets all over the Bay Area’s [nine] counties. That’s 169 employees who report to me. But I started with Goodwill in a program for at-risk youth 12 years ago and got an entry level position in the warehouse. At that time, the program was called RAMP, and it was a job readiness program. It was dope. They helped to prepare me how to apply for jobs, how to interview, stuff like that. They provided professional attire, mock interviews, the basic fundamentals of communication. They taught me the importance of accountability and punctuality.
If you weren’t brought up with those skill sets, you don’t really think about it. That’s kind of what helped me start up my first business, to be honest. Going through the program and learning about the store, becoming a manager. I realized if I can help run another person’s business, I can run my own.
What was your biggest challenge during that transition?
Not really having that financial literacy. I’ve learned — over years — I’ve learned through lessons. Originally, I would self-fund everything out-of-pocket with cash and not really think about building up my credit or looking into business credit cards. Things like that. The other night I was checking my emails and I saw a deadline for a small business grant, and the deadline was the next day. So I said fuck that and stayed up all night to apply. I might not get it, but I [filled out the application].
Finding and knowing about those resources is important. Every event, I learn more about being efficient, about presentation. I’m always open to learning and adapting, making changes and improving.
I can’t end this interview without asking the main question: Who are your favorite hyphy rappers, and do you still listen to them? Why is it important to keep that alive?
Of course. Keak da Sneak, E-40, Too Short, Mistah F.A.B., Mac Dre. San Quinn, for sure, in that era especially. The 2000s, he was coming consistent, non-stop. Yaddamean. There’s so many rappers and Bay artists, the list goes on and on. My kids listen to it through me, but I got a wide range of music that I mess with. I can go from oldies to R&B to rap to hyphy. It’s old-school player shit. We’ll be listening to Spanish music, too.
Hyphy is still going on, but it’s not as prominent. Did you see Mistah F.A.B. and them are throwing The Hyphy Era Tour? There’s also a cat on IG, BigFolksPop, we just chop it up, and I appreciate all his skits. They’re basically from the hyphy era, like waiting at the bus stop and seeing a Lightning McQueen backpack or [stoned] Spongebob shirt. The gangsta Spongebob. In the Bay, it’s all about making it your own. It goes back to that idea of making things unique by creating your own remix.
Have you looked at our logo for Hyphy Iceez? It’s made by my friend, a local graphic designer, Chrystian Guillermo, but it’s inspired by Cal Berkeley. My mom is an alumni from UC Berkeley. That’s a big part of the Bay, just like hyphy. It’s about making those connections and keeping that representation. So people see it and they know.
Hyphy Iceez is available for private events and can be found serving various community orgs around the Bay Area. Currently, they are part of Frisco Fridays in partnership with City Chopped and Made in the City. Check their pages for listings on where and when they will be serving food and hyphy-themed drinks one Friday per month.
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