Skidmore College - Scope Magazine Spring 2019

26 SCOPE SPRING 2019 It was April of his senior year and Ben Van Leeuwen ’07 was in Manhat- tan interviewing for a job he wasn’t sure he wanted. Then, he spotted a Mister Softee ice cream truck. “I’m finishing college and I need to do something with my life,” he recalls thinking. “Why don’t I do an ice cream truck in New York City, but serve ice creammade with amazing ingredients?” “I was obsessed with the idea from that moment on,” Van Leeuwen says. After earning his bachelor’s degree in management and business, he recruited Laura O’Neill, his girlfriend at the time, and his brother Pete to move to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with him and start working on a business plan. Van Leeuwen knew a lot about ice cream trucks — he had driven a Good Humor truck for two summers during college — but nothing about making ice cream. He picked up a cookbook, “Bouchon” by celebrated chef Thomas Keller, and churned out a batch of vanilla ice cream from scratch for the first time. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is incredible — homemade ice cream is so good,’” Van Leeuwen says. “It has a lot more egg yolks, whole vanilla beans rather than just extract, and no stabilizers. Some brands are doing some of those things, but we said, ‘Let’s do all of those things.’” With $60,000 from family and friends, the trio launched Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in spring 2008 out of a buttery yellow truck on the streets of New York City. Initially they were ice cream purists, making only elegant, simple flavors like Honeycomb and Earl Grey Tea. The ingredients they used included cinnamon grown on a bio-dynamic farm in Costa Rica and wild licorice from the Himalayas, “which wasn’t a good flavor, actually,” Van Leeuwen says. A few years in, they realized customers were clamoring for chunks of cakes and cookies. “So we thought, ‘Let’s do that in the Van Leeuwen way … in-house with the best possible ingredients,’” Van Leeuwen says. They built a bakery, using half of their total production space, where they make the add-ins with extraordinary care. With the same focus on quality, the team also developed vegan ice cream, experimenting with luscious plant-based fats like coconut and co- coa butter until they found the perfect taste and texture. The product now constitutes 35 percent of their sales, with the Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam flavor being the fan favorite. “The way we do anything — whether it’s operationally or marketing or product or finance — is always trying to be better,” Van Leeuwen says. The company received their first round of venture-capital financ- ing last year and used the cash infusion to expand wholesale distribution to nearly every state, add to their management team and open new scoop shops. Their pints can be found at Whole Foods and other grocery chains, and they’ll have 22 scoop shops by this summer in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. Van Leeuwen says an entrepreneurship course he loved at Skidmore helped prepare him for launching his business — and growing it. In just 11 years, he’s gone frommaking ice cream in his kitchen to opening one of his latest shops in Manhattan’s trendy newHudson Yards luxury retail complex — also home to a Bouchon Bakery. He even met chef Keller at a launch event. “I was really excited,” Van Leeuwen says. “I told him, ‘The first ice cream I ever made was out of your book!’” — Lisa Haney Scoop dreams How Ben Van Leeuwen ’07 launched an artisanal ice cream company on creative thought and exceptional ingredients John Herr