– Regardless of where you grow up, the ice cream experience
is deeply nostalgic. It’s something that kids
everywhere remember begging for, and we want to sort of amplify that. For most of our customers, ice cream is not an everyday thing. So for them, we need to
make our flavors very good, but also classic and
familiar and approachable. I was looking for a summer job. I saw an ad in the paper saying, “Drive an ice cream truck,
make 500 bucks a week,” which was an unimaginably
large amount of money to me. I wasn’t thrilled about
the quality of the product. Five years after, I was in Manhattan one day, looking at the Mister Softee trucks, and for me it was an a-ha moment. I wondered why there weren’t
any high-end ice cream trucks — it seemed super obvious. I called my business
partner, Laura O’Neill, and my brother Pete, and I said, “Hey guys, do you wanna
start an ice cream truck?” But we had never made ice cream before. So the original idea was to
buy ice cream from someone else and sell it off of the truck. We started tasting everything. There weren’t a lot of artisanal
ice creams in the country, and most of the ice creams had
a lot of stabilizers in them, things that we feel don’t
make the ice cream better. So the plan changed to
make our own ice cream. We tweaked recipes, made them completely our own
to make a more luscious product, and that was the birth of Van Leeuwen. Moving to our own ice
cream store and factory really allowed us to constantly strive to make better ice cream. A big part of it, too, is being able to make
all the add-ins in-house. So the cookies, cakes, crumbles, brittles, homemade chocolate chip cookie dough with Askinosie chocolate chips. We’re pushing ourselves to
find even better ingredients. There’s a classic
Midwestern American flavor called Blue Moon ice cream. And it was bright blue ice cream, it was flavored with a
lot of artificial stuff. We thought, oh, it would be
cool to do our version of that. The Planet Earth is a
super-popular flavor. Bright colors are really important to us, but if we’re going to do bright colors, we need to do it not only
in an all-natural way, but a really, really delicious way. What really Van leeuwnizes
it is, to color that blue, we use spirulina powder, and we wanted to kind of make
it look like planet Earth. So we added chunks of cake that we color and flavor
with matcha green tea. It’s a classic flavor, but
made in the best possible way with the best possible ingredients, that really differentiates us. I was in San Francisco
when someone said to me, “Oh you have vegan ice cream
and regular, that’s awesome, you have something for everyone.” I was like, no, “We have
everything for everyone,” because the vegan ice cream
is not at all a sacrifice, you’re not sacrificing taste. My personal favorite way to eat ice cream is actually in a sundae, so
with whipped cream, hot fudge, walnuts, cocoa nibs, almonds,
Kirsch-soaked cherries, fruit compote on top, caramel. What’s really cool is we do
vegan versions of everything. So for the vegan. we have
coconut whipped cream that we’re also making in-house, and I actually think it’s even better than normal whipped cream. Vegan chocolate sauce,
most of the dry toppings, the nuts and chocolate
chips are already vegan. We launched honeycomb ice
cream as a special flavor. It was inspired by Laura
O’Neill, my business partner, who’s from Australia. In Australia, honeycomb’s
a super-popular candy. Laura was adamant that
people would love it — and that was four years ago,
and it’s never left the menu. It was insanely popular,
it’s our No. 1 flavor. We caramelize organic brown rice syrup, we add some sodium
bicarbonate to puff it up, it cools and hardens, and we
break it into these chunks. Then we fold the honeycomb
into the sweet cream base, and it stays chewy and
crispy on the inside, and then bleeds ribbons of
caramel throughout the ice cream. It’s an amazing flavor. Another very popular flavor is the peanut butter marshmallow crunch. The inspiration was the
peanut butter fluff sandwich, like classic American. So we’re making this peanut ice cream, and then folding homemade
marshmallow fluff and crumbled candy cocoa
nibs and peanuts throughout. We love taking these
classic American things which historically were not
made with great ingredients, and saying what happens if we do this with incredible ingredients
and incredible technique. The sort of big picture goal on all creation in Van
Leeuwen is deliciousness. Which sounds very, very obvious, but it is important to just
throw ego aside and be like, we don’t need to be cool or interesting. We’d like to if we can, but No. 1, what our customer wants is
a really awesome experience and to be delighted
with delicious products. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll go and have an ice cream sundae, and it always turns my day around. It’s really bizarre — like
completely changes it. The first day we were ever
in business, I was like, I’m gonna try a sundae,
and I ate this sundae. I’ll never forget the moment, and I never forget great
food moments in my life. It is just sugar and
chocolate and flavors, but it was like a real happiness. So happiness, that’s it,
it brings people happiness. And it brings me happiness.