Meet the Producer: NYC's Ice Cream Man
Ben Van Leeuwen’s artisan ice cream (on wheels)user rating
After just one year in business, Ben Van Leeuwen, the 25-year-old founder of New York City's Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, talks about sourcing exotic ingredients, getting chosen by Whole Foods and the challenges of running a business on wheels.
Have you always been crazy about ice cream?
Since I was 16, my core interest has been food. I would travel and, although I felt guilty about it, I enjoyed going to restaurants and farmer’s markets more than museums. The summer after high school I rented a Good Humor truck, made a lot of money selling ice cream and thought, this is quite a business. I can move around, I’m not paying rent and it made me think, there could be something good in this. We launched Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in May 2008. Today we operate three trucks.
Where do your source your ingredients?
Our specialty ice cream is made in a traditional way using fresh whole milk and cream, fresh cane sugar and fresh eggs—that’s unusual for someone making ice cream on this scale. The vanilla ice cream is made with organic bourbon and Tahitian beans from Papua, New Guinea that have been oak-barrel aged for three months. The pistachio is made with Bronte hand-picked nuts from Sicily that are considered the best in the world. Our gianduia is made with Michel Cluizel Chocolate from France blended with Tonda La Gentile hazelnuts from Italy. We’ll soon be offering Earl Grey tea using a special black tea from Rishi Teas.
How do your trucks differ from other rolling vendors?
We want to be a transparent company and the truck is an extension of that; there are huge windows on all three sides so customers can see everything. We use plate freezers that are plugged in at night to get cold and will then keep the ice cream frozen throughout the day without drawing on the generators. It makes the trucks quiet and nice places to work.
How did you find your way into Whole Foods Market so quickly?
We were lucky, they came to us. We sell pints at Whole Foods and would love to sell to other retailers. We also sell 3-gallon containers to several outlets that promote our ice cream and sell it by the scoop and 5-quart containers to some restaurants.
Where do you see your business going?
We’d like to continue doing both the ice cream trucks and retail. With the trucks, it’s nice because we have control over the product and all aspects of the sale, we just need people to show up. We are expanding our fleet in New York, bringing it to a total of five trucks, and will begin selling espresso this fall to extend the business year-round. We are also looking to have trucks in Miami and Los Angeles and our own storefront in New York. Eventually, I would like to grow it into the biggest super-premium ice cream company in the world.
If you knew it were going to be your last meal, what would you eat?
I’d have wild Coho salmon roasted with salt and pepper and served with roasted cauliflower in an anchovy caper dressing.—Susan Segrest
Pictures courtesy of © Ashley Fischer