Ben (left), Laura and Pete in their UWS store
Ten years ago, with $60,000 on hand and no factory, Laura O’Neill and Pete and Ben Van Leeuwen decided to operate an ice cream truck in New York City. Instead of using gum stabilizers and fillers, they wanted to make their ice cream with all-natural, pure ingredients. The trio, none of whom have a culinary background, started testing ice cream recipes in the kitchen of their shared Brooklyn apartment. Today, Van Leeuwen has grown into a multimillion-dollar, multi-city dessert empire with numerous trucks and brick-and-mortar stores throughout NYC and Los Angeles.
Van Leeuwen remains known for its rich and delicious vegan flavors, which hit their menu about five years ago. With a formula of raw cashews, extra virgin coconut oil, pure cocoa butter, coconut cream, and organic cane sugar, the ice cream is beloved by vegans and non-vegans. “It’s not just good vegan ice cream–it’s incredible ice cream that happens to be vegan,” Laura told us. Pete, Ben, and Laura recently gave us a tour of one of their new NYC stores, a small pastel-painted shop on the Upper West Side. Ahead, hear from Laura about Van Leeuwen’s humble start in Brooklyn, the decision-making-process behind new flavors, and plans to expand even further.