Mikey Cole, founder of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream, first became inspired to start an ice cream shop after his aunt passed away. That inspiration has led him to spread happiness through his sweet treats, one scoop at a time.
“She would always tell me that whatever you do, make sure you put love into it and if you are cooking with love, someone should receive that same food with love,” said Cole. “And so after she passed, I found a vanilla ice cream recipe. That became the base of all the ice cream I make now.”
Cole developed a range of ice cream flavors and treats for his shop, some of which are popular Black culture references, such as Foxy Brown (mocha, crushed chocolate wafer cookies and a sea salt caramel swirl), Milli Vanilli (Coke or root beer float served with two scoops of your choice of ice cream), and Southern Hospitality (pecan ice cream with praline pecans and chunks of pecan pie). For Cole, he took flavors that he loved and created them in such a way that he hoped others would like.
“The whole brand is, I like it, I hope you like it. For example, for me to learn about banana pudding, which is our Brady Bunch flavor, I like banana pudding the same traditional way that everyone makes it with vanilla wafers, but I also like Vienna fingers,” said Cole. “I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to make it the way I like it and I hope that at least you like it.’ I do all of the quality control I can, I do as much testing as I can so when it leaves my hands you definitely should like it or even love it.”
The first Mikey Likes It Ice Cream location opened up at 199 Avenue A in the Lower East Side in 2014. On that rainy day the shop opened, Cole was unsure of what kind of response the shop would get.
However, unbeknownst to Cole, a reporter from the New York Times happened to stop by the shop that in the following days and ordered one of the ice cream purveyor’s signature ice cream and waffle sandwiches.
“A couple of days later, I was ranked as the third best ice cream shop in the city, and there were just lines outside of people outside to support, which was awesome, and people authentically in the community supporting knowing that I’m a part of the community,” said Cole. “That’s what it’s all about, letting people know that ice cream is a vehicle for communication for us and we all need that message every now and then.”
Cole opened another shop in Harlem, located at 2500 Frederick Douglass Blvd, in 2017 and business continued to boom. Cole not only used his business to share his homemade ice cream, but also to give back to the community by giving out food to those in need in the neighborhood and working with schools to bring ice cream to kids.
Like many businesses in New York City, Mikey Likes It Ice Cream had to close up shop as the city shut down due to COVID-19. After closing up the shop for a month or two, Cole pivoted the business over to the Messenger app in order to communicate with the community at large.
“I used Messenger to communicate with the community and let them know that we are still there for them with our comfort food to comfort them through a tough time,” said Cole. “They would communicate through messenger and ask me if I could deliver, so we started a home delivery service and that’s how we got through the pandemic last year after closing for a month or two.”
Mikey Likes It Ice Cream would deliver anywhere in Manhattan, with Cole himself driving pints of ice cream to customers. That personal touch of Cole fulfilling deliveries helped keep business going for the shop.
“When the reaction from customers were, ‘Oh, Mikey is doing this himself,’ it made more people keep supporting the brand,” said Cole. “I just wanted to make sure that from my hands to yours that you are happy. If it takes making the ice cream, packaging it myself and driving it to you, so be it. I just want to make sure you’re happy.”
Even throughout the pandemic, Cole has been committed to giving back to the community. He and his employees continue to give out food once a week and have given out boxes of food to families in need. Cole also helped facilitate the distribution of 400 turkeys this past Thanksgiving and 300 coats during Christmas.
“We’re such a small business, we didn’t get any PPP money from the government, so this is all a way of just saying ‘Hey, this is a gift and a blessing that we keep giving,'” said Cole. “We hope that it returns the blessing to us, but the blessing is seeing people happy when they have an interaction with the product.”
Cole hopes that someday he can bring his ice cream to the White House, following in the footsteps of Augustus Jackson, an African-American ice cream maker who served as a chef there in the 1820s.
“One of my inspirations is Augustus Jackson, a brother who worked in the White House. He’s known as the father of ice cream,” said Cole. “It was amazing for him to give the gift us ice cream and it would be great to return the favor.”
In the meantime, Cole is focused on growing the business but also help others find the ‘Mikey’ in their area and grow ice cream’s presence nationwide.
“We want to get ice cream in everyone’s hand. There’s a Mikey in every community. The more we can ice cream out there nationwide, then globally, then we’ll really be talking and putting smiles on everyone’s faces and create memories.” said Cole. “What you’ll see is a growth in every kind of the business, getting stronger and getting better, that means we’re getting stronger with our customers and making a first-time customer to a loyal supporter.”