This is part of a summer series spotlighting NYC’s ice cream parlors and other cold treats specialists.
Thomforde’s ice cream shop and soda fountain stood on the corner of 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue from 1903 to 1983. Those who lived in Harlem during that time are probably aware of its status as a local gathering place.
Petrushka Bazin Larsen and her husband, Nick Larsen, learned about it from Harlemites in the years before the couple opened Sugar Hill Creamery in 2017.
Petrushka recalls neighbors saying they would frequent the shop after church or when they were out on a date.
“That’s what we wanted for Sugar Hill,” she says. “That you’d come celebrate a milestone or just celebrate a Monday, commiserate on a Wednesday, have a blind date, hang out with friends. It’s a place of memory-making and connection.”
The Larsens feel they have accomplished their goal. Petrushka says though they opened only a couple of summers ago, people have already told them that it feels like the shop has been there forever.
Before opening Sugar Hill Creamery, Nick worked for some of the city’s most illustrious restaurants, most recently as the General Manager of Telepan, an Upper West Side establishment that closed in 2016.
Petrushka was vice president for programs & education at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and program director at The Laundromat Project, a nonprofit that brings art into places where people gather. She continues to work with the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling and other nonprofits in her spare time.
The Larsens weave their love of their surroundings into their ice cream. The shop collaborates with Harlem tastemakers like Marcus Samuelsson, Sheila Bridges and Tuma Basa. Its flavors skew classic over trendy, but stand out in their diverse inspirations. They nod to Petrushka’s Haitian roots, Nick’s Midwestern background, and the Caribbean, West African and Puerto Rican populations of Harlem (to name a few).
“We never intend to do crazy flavors,” Nick says. “We care what our neighbors are interested in. Classic flavors, classic with a twist, representations of Caribbean flavors — we want to create a comfort level and interest in ice cream.”
Nick says they’ve probably developed close to 100 flavors, including their Harlem Flavor the Week series.
“It’s a portrait of Harlem in ice cream form,” Petrushka says, though the same could be said for Sugar Hill Creamery’s entire business.
One more way the Larsens have established Sugar Hill as a reflection of the neighborhood is by decorating the space with portraits of locals.
“It felt important to put faces to our neighbors,” Petrushka explains. “In rapidly changing neighborhoods, cultures can get erased. People want to frequent businesses that make them feel comfortable. We wanted to make sure that when people walk in, they see actual residents that live here now.”
Sugar Hill Creamery offers four year-round staple flavors — blueberry cheesecake, salted caramel crunch, vanilla bean and a vegan dark chocolate — along with six rotating specials and two other surprises that the Larsens source from a stable of 50 flavors.
Their most popular flavors are the blueberry cheesecake, called “Chairperson of the Board,” and the salted caramel crunch, called “Harlem Sweeties,” as well as vanilla (“Andy Griffith”) and cookie dough (“Unfinished Business”).
Toppings range from candy and chocolate and caramel sauces to fresh berries and fruits. One summer special is a corn jalapeno sundae, topped with blueberry hibiscus, toasted cornbread and mezcal whipped cream.
Sugar Hill also offers coffee, tea, flavored lemonades and iced teas, ice cream sandwiches, floats, pie, cookies, brownies and, in the winter, grilled cheese.
Sugar Hill Creamery is located at 184 Lenox Ave. For more info, visit sugarhillcreamery.com.