Taste Radio Episode 203

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream: Ben Van Leeuwen


Twelve years ago, Ben Van Leeuwen launched his small-batch ice cream brand in the midst of a recession. An economic downturn is perhaps not the ideal time to start a company, yet the circumstances helped establish one of the core elements of his business strategy: a thorough examination of every cost.

“Dig into every single expense, and ask yourself: ‘Is this really serving our customer?’ Van Leeuwen said in an interview included in this episode. “That’s the most important thing. If it’s not serving the customer, then don’t do it.”

That principle has been essential to running a lean and profitable company and key to its growth. Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has evolved into a sprawling brand with 22 ice cream shops in New York and California and a wholesale pint business with more than 1,500 accounts across the U.S. 

As part of our conversation, Van Leeuwen spoke about why he started an ice cream brand alongside his brother and future wife, how New York City’s culture impacted its development and why the company didn’t raise money for its first 11 years. He also shared his perspective on how Van Leeuwen has bucked the trend toward healthy eating, promoting brand pillars through packaging, the synergistic relationship between its stores and wholesale business and whether he’s open to selling the company down the road.

In this Episode

2:04: Ben Van Leeuwen, Co-Founder/CEO, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream — Taste Radio editor Ray Latif met with Van Leeuwen in New York City where he spoke about how a summer job in his teens and traveling around the world led to and influenced the creation of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, as well as the upside to working with his family and why he rejected advice to use inferior ingredients in his products. He also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of operating in New York City, why the company, which recently raised a new round of capital, stopped co-manufacturing early on and built its own production facility, why ‘running lean was just the default” and the reason that he and his co-founders decided to accept outside capital. Later, he explained why minimalism was the goal in its package design, the keys to the brand’s popular vegan varieties and how he stays in shape despite being the CEO of an indulgent ice cream brand.

Also Mentioned

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, Michel Cluizel