The Shocking Meltdown of Ample Hills — Brooklyn’s Hottest Ice Cream Company
They had $19 million, a deal with Disney, and dreams of becoming the next Ben & Jerry’s. Then everything fell apart.
The after-school rush had just ended one weekday in the spring of 2015 when the phone rang at the Vanderbilt Avenue location of Ample Hills Creamery, the Brooklyn ice cream brand famous for its whimsical and elaborate flavors. Scooper Jason Smith answered the call, expecting to tell some customer what time they closed or that, yes, they still had Nonna D’s, a brown sugar cinnamon ice cream with oatmeal cookies. But it wasn’t just any customer, it was Oprah Winfrey, the kingmaker of modern media, calling to say how much she liked the company’s Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and Salted Crack’d Caramel.
Ample Hills was barely four years old, but even before Oprah called, it was clear the company had struck a chord. Ample Hills’ married co-founders Brian Smith (no relation to Jason) and Jackie Cuscuna, had opened their first shop in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood in 2011, and almost immediately sold out of 130 gallons of homemade ice cream. The musician (and known foodie) Questlove started coming by for sundaes. On warm summer days, lines stretched out the door, and seven employees would somehow manage to serve 100 customers an hour — nearly two a minute — pulling in some $9,000 a day.
Disney head Bob Iger also had become a fan, and by 2015 Ample Hills had earned itself the title of official ice cream of Disney’s Star Wars film franchise, with limited-edition flavors like Dark Side, an ultra-dark chocolate, and Light Side, a marshmallow base with cocoa crispies. (Later, it would also partner with Disney’s Marvel, releasing flavors such as Spider-Man, with swirls of cherry pie filling, a nod to Peter Parker’s favorite dessert.)
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And that was just the beginning. From 2015 to 2019, Ample Hills raised around $19 million to fund its ambitious expansion plans, hoping to conquer…