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Ample Hills celebrates Walt Whitman influence at new DUMBO location

Ample Hills is celebrating the influence of Walt

Ample Hills is celebrating the influence of Walt Whitman on its namesake this summer at a new location in Dumbo. Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

This summer, Ample Hills brought the number of its locations to 15 when it moved into the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory space in Dumbo.

This new addition to the growing chain’s portfolio may be the only one that came with a hint of controversy, as many were sad to see the iconic Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory vacate the historic fireboat station space at Fulton Ferry Landing. But Ample Hills has its own meaningful connection with this particular address, and its owners — husband and wife Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna — are intent on honoring it. 

“[The fireboat station] is a physical location where Walt Whitman took the ferry across from Manhattan to Brooklyn and wrote the poem, ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,’ where we get our name,” Smith explains. “For us, it’s like coming home. It’s a magical spot.”

The poem contains the line "I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine."

Smith and Cuscuna celebrated the Whitman connection to Ample Hills’s origins by weaving nods to Whitman into this newest location. Working with the New York Public Library, they researched what kinds of desserts Whitman favored and found that coffee cake and doughnuts were among them. They created a flavor called I Contain Breakfast Foods — a reference to the “I contain multitudes” line from his poem, “Song of Myself” — that uses house-made coffee cake and crumbled chocolate doughnuts from Underwest Donuts.

Smith and Cuscuna embrace each of their locations with different decor touches and site-specific flavors. The overarching theme is cohesive and exudes the spirit of whimsy the couple set out to capture when they opened their first shop in the spring of 2011.

While both loved ice cream and Smith experimented often with making it when he wasn't working on his career as a screenwriter, producer and director, former teacher Cuscuna says that the main goal for Ample Hills was to create a community gathering place.

“It was important for us to create a space that was all-inclusive, great for kids and families and young people out on dates,” she says. “We have ice cream socials and parties and just engage people, having it be an experience as opposed to just a retail shop.”

Ample Hills quickly became an NYC favorite with its vibrant aesthetic, welcoming attitude, friendly employees and, of course, its ice cream. The flavor repertoire reads like something from Charlie Bucket’s dreams. Flavors burst with decadent mix-ins, balanced and high-quality thanks to being made from scratch. The scratch-made ice cream bases are pasteurized on site.

In the beginning, the flavors came straight from Smith, who says he aims to keep ideas unpretentious and on track with Ample Hills’s playful identity. Smith and Cuscuna are still in charge of developing flavors — the total reaching toward 300 so far — but now the process includes input from their team at brainstorming meetings and even taking ideas from fans.

Ample Hills’s subsequent growth has taken it as far as California and Florida. While Smith and Cuscuna are growing their brick-and-mortar business, their wholesale business and their e-commerce business, Cuscuna says that Ample Hills will always have the heart of a small business.

It’s for this reason that Smith says he and Cuscuna make every shop look and feel just a little different and why they put time into developing those location-specific flavors, so Ample Hills shops never feel like a fast-food operation.

“We want to be a presence in every community,” she says. “We’d love to have ice cream shops across the country and have our ice cream in everyone’s freezer and be everyone’s beloved place. We’re growing, but we’re still a mom-and-pop organization that cares about its people and its community.”

COOL FACTS

  • The number of flavors served varies from shop to shop, but ranges from 12 to 24. Eight to 12 of these are permanent core flavors, like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Chocolate Milk & Cookies, and Peppermint Pattie.
  • Smith says the most popular flavors Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, followed by Salted Crack’d Caramel.
  • Ample Hills offers regular ice cream-making classes at different locations. Other events include ice cream socials and gatherings for different charities.
  • Ample Hills is located at 421 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook; 157 Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard in Rockaway (seasonal); 445 Albee Square West in Downtown Brooklyn; 600 11th Avenue in Midtown; 623 Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights; Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park (seasonal); 73 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District; 34-02 30th Avenue in Astoria; 1 Water Street in Dumbo; 305 Nevins Street in Gowanus; and 141 8th Avenue in Chelsea. For more info, visit amplehills.com.

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