Add another enticing entry in the wave of recent news regarding New York City – based frozen dessert peddlers heading west. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, which started as two retro-style trucks in New York City in 2008 and now has six in its rotation along with three shops, will hit the streets in Los Angeles in early February. A brick-and-mortar store downtown is also in the works.
“Not that we're done growing in New York, but since the first year we've been thinking about L.A., since it's a 365-day-a-year ice cream market,” says Van Leeuwen co-founder Pete Van Leeuwen of the latest expansion he's undertaking with his two business partners, brother Ben Van Leeuwen and sister-in-law Laura O'Neill. “We've been eyeing it from the get-go.”
The team has plucked an existing truck from its fleet, and Pete has been on the ground here to handle permitting and modifications for the Los Angeles market. (It's worth noting that Coolhaus, the ever-popular, L.A.-based, architecturally themed ice cream sandwich outfit, has successfully made the reverse migration, as well as to other cities.) Expect Van Leeuwen's L.A. debut to roll out around the first week of February. This warm winter is proving to be an exceptionally busy ice cream season in this town, indeed.
The Van Leeuwen crew is in the midst of launching its new vegan ice creams, which are recently available in its New York City area trucks and shops, as well as in select Whole Foods stores in the tristate area. Since they're confident that Southern California will be a receptive audience for dairy-free ice creams, the L.A. truck's visual presentation will emphasize this line.
“We're so excited about it because it's as good as if not better than the dairy we're known for,” Van Leeuwen explains. “It's insanely rich.” That's largely thanks to a vegan frozen dessert base that uses housemade cashew milk, coconut milk, cocoa butter and “responsibly sourced” coconut oil.
“We're using the same well-sourced flavors as we do with our ice cream,” Van Leeuwen says, mentioning their dedication to Michel Cluizel chocolate and pistachios from Bronte, Sicily. Raw materials from their Brooklyn neighbor, Toby's Estate Beans, appear in the coffee crunch ice cream.
While the truck gets established around town and the downtown location is under construction, the product will continue to be largely an out-of-state import. “Initially for the immediate future, we are sending out a few pallets of ice cream, and as we launch into this market slowly, we hope to set up a production facility within the year,” Van Leeuwen notes, specifying that he's looking forward to making use of organic dairy products and closer access to other ingredients California is known for.
The beauty of launching a truck is the constant trial and error that's part and parcel of that type of business, so just as when the trio started out in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Van Leeuwen needs to get out there and see who's hungriest for the small-batch, high-quality, not inexpensive goods. “The reality is, there are unforeseeable opportunities that arise as soon as you hit the road.”