Greenpointers, get excited. Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream, best known for their whimsical, custard-yellow ice cream trucks, which serve gourmet ice cream and Intelligentsia Coffee, is setting up shop at 632 Manhattan Avenue next month.
While their five trucks will continue to roam Manhattan and North Brooklyn, serving up creamy, eighteen percent butterfat scoops of flavors like red currant and cream, ginger, coffee, pistachio, hazelnut, giandujia, and earl grey, Van Leeuwen’s new location will be a permanent place for fans to get their ice cream and sundae fix, as well as coffee and pastries.
The company, run by Ben Van Leeuwen, 26, wife Laura O’Neill, 28, and brother Pete Van Leeuwen, 32, was launched in Spring 2008. The brothers had run Good Humor trucks during their college summers, and saw the opportunity to create their own ice cream company with a simple idea: use the best ingredients available. With the Internet at their side, they began researching where to get the highest quality ingredients for their egg yolk-heavy, custard-based ice creams, and started experimenting with recipes in their home kitchen.
“We’ve all been very into food and seeking out the good stuff from the beginning. We’ve all tried to make ice cream at some point, but we basically have learned from reading up as much as we could,” Pete said. “It’s not rocket science—and if you’re using the best ingredients, you’re already way ahead of the game. That, and having a high butterfat content.’
Their quest for the very best ingredients in the world have sent them across the nation and the globe, from finding hazelnuts tested by the government for their genetic integrity, to whittling down choices for vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio from dozens of options. The ice cream itself is produced nearby—at the dairy they source their milk and cream from in Lewis County New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. Because they don’t use any preservatives, stabilizers, or unnatural emulsifiers, the ice cream is made in small, careful batches.
They’ve also made a commitment to the environment, using disposable goods made from 100% renewable resources—cups and napkins from sugarcane husk; drink cups, spoons, and straws from cornhusk. In addition, one percent of profits are donated to Wildlife Direct, in an effort to preserve the Mountain Gorilla, an endangered species.
“We just try to have as minimal an impact on planet earth as possible,” Pete said. “It costs a lot more to do so, but it’s worth it.”
In less than two years, they’ve expanded from two trucks to five, and have begun distributing pints at retailers in the tri-state area, including Whole Foods. They have been able to keep the gourmet-quality product affordable due to the low overhead costs of running trucks instead of a storefront, though it hasn’t been altogether easy.
“The trucks can be a huge problem and undertaking—there’s that much more that can go wrong every single day, and it seems like that much more does go wrong,” Pete explained. “We run off generators, and particularly since we’ve gotten coffee there’s just been a lot that can happen because there’s so much more machinery in the truck—two different generators, a drip coffee machine and a serious espresso machine—it’s trying. All of these things aren’t really meant to be in a truck that bounces around the back roads of New York.”
The trucks have their rewards, though—extremely pleasant customers.
“People are so excited, they love it. It’s awesome,” said Pete, who at the start of the company worked fourteen-hour days on the trucks. “Every time I jump on and get to work on the truck, it’s so enjoyable. If it’s not the best part of people’s day, it’s certainly one of the best parts of the day, I mean—they’re about to eat ice cream—good ice cream. You get people at their best, and it’s always nice to be around.”
“It seems as though probably half the people that come up tot the truck are regulars,” he continued. “It’s one of those things where it’s almost impossible for the vibe not to be good. It’s odd when you get somebody who isn’t at the very least slightly pleasant, which is bizarre in New York.”
North Brooklyn is no exception. Though they were tentative about bringing the truck to Bedford at first, worried that “disgruntled hipsters would think it was some yuppie truck,” Pete is happy to admit their predictions were completely wrong. “On the contrary, Bedford Avenue and all of our customers there are super cool. All of our employees always want to work on Bedford because they get the best tips of all. They’re super generous.”
Now that they’ve become more established, in both boroughs, Ben, Pete, and Laura are excited to open up a permanent space in addition to the trucks—not in the least because they’ve found a spot on their home turf—Pete, Ben, and Laura all live in Greenpoint.
“The location is probably what I’m most excited about,” Pete said. “It’s a small space, under Manhattan Inn’s roof. It really is just perfect.”
If February is too far away, Greenpointers can find Van Leeuwen pints at The Garden on 921 Manhattan Ave. Visit vanleeuwenicecream.com for more distributors and truck locations.