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Founders of Ample Hills Creamery leave business following bankruptcy announcement

Ample Hills co-founders Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith. (Photo courtesy of Liz Clayman)

The husband-and-wife founders of Prospect Heights ice cream maker Ample Hills will leave the company less than a month after the bankrupt creamery sold to Oregonian manufacturing company Schmitt Industries in June, according to a Monday statement.

“It is with deep sadness that Brian [Smith] and I have made the painful decision to move on from Ample Hills,” wrote Jackie Cuscuna in a lengthy post on the ice cream purveyor’s Instagram page on July 6.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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It is with deep sadness that Brian and I have made the painful decision to move on from Ample Hills. The brand, the scoop shops and the factory will all continue to operate under new ownership. Brian and I @astheicecreamchurns worked very hard to create and build Ample Hills from nothing. We started with a pushcart in Prospect Park in 2010, opening our first shop on Vanderbilt Ave. in 2011. It was never just a business for us. It was always about love, community, collaboration and the most playful, nostalgic flavors of ice cream. As demand and opportunity grew, we decided to expand. The love Brian and I have for this city and the desire to keep the story and the jobs in Brooklyn is what led us to create our 15k square foot factory in Brooklyn. And that is when our financial problems began. While most of our shops were profitable, the factory was not at capacity, took a lot more money to build and more time to become operational. We fought hard to stay out of bankruptcy but ended up having to file in mid-March, the same time our city shutdown due to COVID. And through this time, we fought hard to keep the brand top of mind, churning up new flavors at home, sharing stories and of course speaking with numerous potential buyers who could bring the needed financial and operational support that would allow our beloved company to shine. In the end the company sold for just $1million which mostly went to the bank for the loans given us. Many people, from friends to vendors to the folks who helped build our company, lost a lot of money because of the mistakes we made. And Brian and I lost everything we’d worked for over these last ten years. But even in bankruptcy we had hoped to be a part of the story moving forward, working with the new team to help revive the brand, post COVID. Unfortunately it hasn’t turned out that way. But once we get through this mourning period, Brian and I fully intend to create something special once again. Please follow our continued journey on @astheicecreamchurns. We still have what we started with- the love of each other, the love of story telling, the love of community and of course the love of ice cream.

A post shared by Ample Hills Creamery (@amplehills) on

The Ample Hills brand, the 13 store locations, and the scoop shop’s Red Hook factory will continue to operate under new ownership, but Cuscuna and Smith said they will not be part of the brand’s future.

“But even in bankruptcy we had hoped to be a part of the story moving forward, working with the new team to help revive the brand, post COVID. Unfortunately it hasn’t turned out that way,” the statement read.

Cuscuna and Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The head of Schmitt Industries said in a statement that he appreciated the brand the Brooklynites built, but did not comment as to why the founders left.

“Jackie and Brian developed a wonderful brand but decided to pursue other options,” said the company’s chief executive officer Michael Zapata. “Ample Hills will honor the brand they have built and always appreciate advice and suggestions from them and certainly wish them luck with their personal and professional future.”

Zapata added that the company plans to re-hire 200 local Ample Hills workers and expects to reopen most of the nine locations it bought “in the coming days and weeks.”

That includes the branches in Prospect Heights, Dekalb Market Hall in Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, Red Hook, the Fireboat at Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo, Astoria in Queens, Chelsea and Essex Market in Manhattan, and Jersey City. 

Cuscuna’s post hinted that they intend to start a new venture, and told their fans to stay tuned via another social media account the couple runs.

“But once we get through this mourning period, Brian and I fully intend to create something special once again. Please follow our continued journey on @astheicecreamchurns,” they wrote.

The couple started selling ice cream from a pushcart in Prospect Park in 2010, before opening their first store on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights the following year, and ultimately growing to a dozen outposts in the New York City area — with five of them in its home borough.

The chain was also slated to open a location in an empty storefront adjacent from Nitehawk Cinema on Prospect Park West in Park Slope. Hidrock Properties, which owns and operates that building, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about future plans for the space. 

The scoopsters said that their financial troubles started well before the COVID-19 outbreak when they opened a 15,000 square-foot factory and museum on Van Brunt Street in 2018, according to the social media statement.

“While most of our shops were profitable, the factory was not at capacity, took a lot more money to build and more time to become operational,” the statement read.

Building the facility was delayed and beset by cost overruns that caused Ample Hills to lose money, with annual losses climbing to $6.9 million in 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal

In March of this year, as the coronavirus pandemic started to ravage the city, the company laid off all of its employees and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, before eventually selling for $1 million to the Portland firm on June 9, according to filings first reported by the investing website Seeking Alpha.

The money from the sale went mostly to paying off bank loans, according to the Instagram post, and the couple lamented the large losses for themselves and the people they worked with over the years.

“Many people, from friends to vendors to the folks who helped build our company, lost a lot of money because of the mistakes we made. And Brian and I lost everything we’d worked for over these last 10 years,” they wrote.

The cult creamery was known for its fun flavors, such as “It Came From Gowanus” — a salty dark chocolate ice cream paying homage to Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory and its cleanup with “deep, dark mystery and endless surprises,” or their Walt Whitman-inspired “I Contain Breakfast Foods.”

The former owners concluded their statement saying that their love for the dessert remains strong. 

“We still have what we started with — the love of each other, the love of storytelling, the love of community and of course the love of ice cream,” they wrote.

This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.

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