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Ample Hills expands its empire with Red Hook factory

Visitors can see the ice cream process in action at the Brooklyn brand’s museum.

Ample Hills owners Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna

Ample Hills owners Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna in the ice cream shop inside their new factory and museum in Red Hook. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

When Ample Hills Creamery first opened in Prospect Heights, it was so popular it sold out of ice cream in four days.

Seven years and nearly a dozen locations later, the mom-and-pop scoop shop is still trying to keep up with demand — especially as it looks to expand its Brooklyn-born ice cream empire cross-country with its first West Coast shop opening in Los Angeles this summer.

To help fuel that growth, the company has built a new, 15,000-square-foot factory along the Red Hook waterfront that will churn 500,000 creamy gallons of ice cream each year. That’s approximately 10 times the current production, according to the husband-and-wife co-owners, Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna.

“We’re seven years old, and we can’t open another shop or sell another pint into a grocery store without expanding our production capability,” says Smith, 48. “We just don’t have the capacity to make any more ice cream, so all roads lead through the factory.”

The production facility is also home to the 11th scoop shop, which opened this month, and an interactive ice cream museum debuting Thursday.

The museum will offer transparency into Ample Hills’ ice cream-making process. Visitors can peer through glass windows into the factory — which is part ice cream plant, part bake shop — and learn about the ins-and-outs of the pasteurization process and the making of the brand’s signature from-scratch ooey gooey butter cake bites and brownies. Production at the Red Hook Factory is expected to start within the next few weeks. The Gowanus shop, where Ample Hills has been making its ice cream in recent years, will now be a site for small batches and testing.

Also in the museum, a colorful map pays homage to the birthplace of the company, whose name comes from a verse in the Walt Whitman poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Displays of Brooklyn’s signature landmarks past and present, including a mini walk-in tunnel that represents the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel and a green toy trolley that symbolizes the trolley cars that once passed through Ebbets Field.

Visitors to the museum will also have the chance to invent and potentially taste their own flavor.

“An exclusive feature of the Red Hook museum space is the magnetic scrapbook where people can create their own original flavor ideas and stick them up on the wall,” Cuscuna, 48, says. “Once every month or two, we’ll actually make one of the flavors.”

In keeping with tradition, the Red Hook scoop shop will serve its own exclusive, neighborhood-inspired flavor, The Hook. That’s burnt sugar ice cream with house-made stroopwafels and chunks of salted fudge.

“We don’t start with the flavor, but with the story,” Smith says. “Once we find the special story of the neighborhood, we think about what kind of flavors we can use to tell that history.”

The stroopwafels reference the Dutch, the first European settlers in the area. The burnt sugar ice cream is for the former Revere Sugar Factory, which was on the pier right next to the Ample Hills factory.

“And of course, the salty air and sea can be tasted in the salted chocolate,” Smith says.

The ice cream company has been on an opening tear as of late. In addition to the Red Hook and forthcoming Los Angeles locations, Ample Hills opened in Astoria last month. Another Brooklyn location, in Prospect Park South, is also in the works.

The factory will allow the company to make more ice cream for these new stores, as well as expand its footprint in grocery stores, Smith said. “This factory is part of a wider national growth plan,” he said.

In addition to competing with local ice cream brands such as Van Leeuwen and household names such as Ben & Jerry’s, Ample Hills’ expansion comes at a time when the calorie-conscious Halo Top is also vying for prime pint shelf space. The ice cream industry alone contributes more than $39 billion to the national economy, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Ample Hills benefits from a loyal following and smart branding, according to Marcia H. Flicker, associate professor of marketing at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business.

“It’s following a trend of growth of a lot of small, niche ice cream or gelato purveyors,” she says. “They are in on the trend that we are losing quintessential New York to all of these chains. They’re saying, ‘Hey, we are the quintessential New York. We’re bringing that back. We have that statement from Walt Whitman. We were made in Brooklyn and we’re staying in Brooklyn.’ ”

With Ivan Pereira

IF YOU GO

Ample Hills Red Hook Factory opens its museum to the public Thursday at noon | the first 100 scoops of ice cream will be FREE | 421 Van Brunt St., amplehills.com

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