For people stumbling out of the dark, drunken stupor of Midtown or leaving Raising Cane’s after a late-night snack, a bright blue van parked on University Avenue offers an enticing menu.
But it’s not your traditional ice cream or taco truck. The cartoon image of a throned man relishing a smokey cigar and hookah on the beaches of Miami, plastered on the truck’s exterior, signals otherwise.
Its sliding doors reveal a blacklight interior with a glimmering glass counter of goodies for partygoers: nicotine and CBD, in all of its shapes and forms.
Miami Vice Mobile is the brainchild of 25-year-old Pedro Soler, a proud Miami local. Originally working in real estate, he was in for a shock when he got the chance to sell a smoke shop.
“When I found out how much the cost was wholesale versus what I was paying for it, I almost had an aneurysm,” Soler said.
As someone with a long-standing passion for business and start-up experience, he knew it was an opportunity he could not miss out on. He took a jump, and after a year of planning and financing, Miami Vice Mobile opened its sliding doors in 2021.
“I didn’t have anybody to look up to,” Soler said. “I was the first guy to do this in Miami.”
Two years, two vans and one permanent location in Miami later, a blossoming and unconventional business emerged, bringing vapes, cigarettes, CBD products and accessories to events all across Florida.
But besides its titular residence in Miami-Dade County, the company has taken a liking to Gainesville, making it a regular spot for sales.
Miami Vice Mobile made its way to the city after Soler met Justin Mendoza, a 23-year-old UF business management student.
“The one thing that really reeled me in more than anything about Gainesville is the people,” Mendoza said. ”My goal was not to make a lot of money and be a millionaire but serve the people that made me who I am today.”
With Mendoza’s encouragement of Gainesville’s promise, the pair worked together to bring Miami Vice Mobile to the Swamp. The pink and blue van arrived in August and has been here ever since.
From 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the van makes its rounds anywhere from Midtown to Downtown, stopping to sell to the hustle and bustle of Gainesville’s nightlife.
Sunday and Monday, it delivers orders to anyone in Gainesville who orders on their hotline. In between, it sells at corporate events, private parties, concerts and more.
Julio Lanzas, a Miami Vice Mobile sales associate from Miami, was surprised by the wide range of places they’ve found themselves selling at.
“We ended up going to the Everglades in the middle of the swamp,” said Lanzas. “We’ve gone to house parties, city events, we’ve done a whole bunch of crazy stuff.”
There are many perks to this business model. For starters, it doesn’t need to rely on customers to come to a singular location. It can bring the party, and as Soler says, “Miami heat” to the people.
And, the convenience of delivering products to people’s homes opens the door beyond the nightlife scene.
The bonuses don’t come without setbacks, however.
If it’s raining or excessively cold, fewer people are outside to purchase from them, Soler said. Also, car issues like a flat tire or wreck can curb an entire night of potential sales. Originally, there were three mobile smoke shops until a drunk driver totaled one.
Yet, their services go beyond just selling CBD pre-rolls and neon Elf bars.
“At this point, we should be charging for psychology fees,” Soler said. “We’re sidewalk psychologists at times.”
Whether it’s witnessing bar fights, consoling people going through break-ups, cleaning bodily fluids off the van’s exterior or aiding someone who had a phone thrown at their head, Soler says they’ve seen it all.
“We come with composure here,” Mendoza said. “We understand that they’re intoxicated and they’re frustrated or they're just over-exerted.”
Along with the nicotine and CBD products, the van carries water bottles, hand sanitizer and paper towels to hand out to the night goers who may have partied a little too hard. The Miami Vice team also will charge bar goers' dead phones and give them advice, free of cost.
“It’s something that I wasn’t expecting,” Soler said. “We’re almost like Mother Teresa in a way.”
If the whole “selling out of a van” model sounds questionable, Soler wants people to know they do things by the book.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the sale of hemp-derived products, which allows retailers like Miami Vice Mobile to sell cannabinoids including CBD, Delta 8 and Delta 9 legally. It strictly abides by Florida’s mandatory age limit of 21 and up for all of its products, Soler said.
As well as having a legal and HR team, the truck does not sell on the UF campus.
Looking to the future, Soler has big ambitions. Along with opening more permanent stores, he’s already adopted other atypical forms of selling products, such as a smoke shop vending machine in Miami equipped with age verification and facial recognition technology.
But for now, Miami Vice Mobile has no plans of leaving Gainesville behind.
“We’re definitely here to stay,” Soler said. “I’m excited once we get a little more warmed up to show you guys how we do things from our side of town.”
Contact Bonny Matejowsky at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bonnymatejowsky
Bonny Matejowsky is a third-year journalism major and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When she’s not writing, you can find her thrifting or watching Twin Peaks.