Ample Hills at Prospect Park on Memorial Day
Jun 2, 2021
Ample Hills opens Prospect Park location, looks to the future
The local ice cream chain's creative director discusses the new shop, new owners and what comes next
After years of anticipation, delay, setbacks and a pandemic, Ample Hills finally cut the ribbon at its Prospect Park West location on Friday. Situated next to Nitehawk Cinema, hugging the Bartel-Pritchard Square traffic circle, the new Ample Hills shop had been delayed by the company’s bankruptcy and sale to its new owner, Oregon-based manufacturer Schmitt Industries.
The location itself is prime. The former site of Circles, and then Windsor Chophouse, the low-slung building has stood vacant across from the park entrance for a decade. It had been eyed by Ample Hill’s original owners for years and will be the new owner’s first new location. It represents something of a return to the shop’s origins: Ample Hills started as a pushcart in Prospect Park at the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series, 10 years ago this week. The Prospect Park shop will have a site-specific flavor, “Meet Me on the Long Meadow,” designed in partnership with Prospect Park Alliance. A portion of proceeds from the first two weekends is going to go back to the Alliance, according to Lauren Kaelin, Ample Hills’ creative director.
Kaelin is one of the early employees (or “Amployees”) at the ice cream chain, and one of the senior managers to have ties to the original ownership. She started as a scooper at the original Vanderbilt location, and would become the chain’s art director as it grew, helping to create the company vibrant branding, and its whimsical farm animal mascots Walt the Cow, Whitty the Chicken and PB the Pig.
Brooklyn Magazine chatted with Kaelin about the new location—and what’s next for a company that’s finding its feet again under new ownership.
Congratulations on the new location. How did the weekend go?
It went great. We were so overwhelmed by the support and the line and everyone’s enthusiasm from the community for the shop finally opening. It was even more meaningful to see the line of people wrapped around the block with umbrellas and ponchos. And it was overwhelming to finally get the shop open. You work on something for years and years, it really doesn’t come to life until you see people actually in the doors and enjoying ice cream.
Ample Hills was supposed to have opened there for a long time. Obviously there was a pandemic and a change of ownership. You’re one of the through lines that connects the old ownership to the new. What happened there?
The lot that previously was the Pavilion, now Nitehawk, was purchased by a developer and had the intention of being turned into condos. And so that’s when we sort of lost sight of it. And then Ample Hills opened in Gowanus [in 2014] and then subsequently our factory in Red Hook [in 2018]. We went in a different trajectory, but then when that location became available again, it was a dream re-realized. It’s such a perfect location for ice cream. You’ve got the subway, the movie theater and the park. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
There has always been a soft serve truck parked out there. I noticed he was parked out there when you had a line at your opening over the weekend.
There’s more than enough business for both of us.
Can you talk about how you came to be at Ample Hills in the first place? You were living around the corner or nearby when the first shop opened and you just started scooping there basically, and then you ended up working your way into creating the whole sort of look and branding of the place.
I had moved to the city on a blog-to-book deal, which, which ages me perfectly. I was looking for part-time work and I had worked at an ice cream shop when I was in high school and always loved it. And I walked in and they were like, “Can you start tomorrow?” The first sign that I made was something that I drew with crayons on the back of a Manila envelope that said “used spoons.” And from there, I just got the opportunity to draw more and more, and eventually took on more and more responsibility and oversaw marketing, worked on the cookbook. And now as the creative director, I oversee like partnerships and just brand building moving forward. And I still get to paint farm animals on the walls and do all of the packaging and things like that. My scooping arm is a little out of shape.
The look has become so sort of integral to the brand. How it, how would you define it and are there plans to sort of adapt or change it now that there’s new ownership?
No, no, there’s no plans to work in changing it. If anything, Mike [Zapata], the new owner and CEO is completely infatuated with the characters of Walt, Whitty and PB and wants to foreground them even more. It just kind of naturally came out of just a desire to want to create things and then share them with the people that were coming into the shop. And we got such a wonderful reaction, not only from the community but the other “Amployees” were also really into it and we’d add their touches to it. And it just became something that had a life of its own. So as the brand grew, these characters and this vernacular that was created by this original set of Amployees just grew from there.
You mentioned that part of your job as creative director is you’re doing the brand building and the partnerships. What did you learn?
Partnerships is really not a big part of my day-to-day because we’re moving away from it. We’re working with Baked by Melissa again. And have some other partners that aren’t announced yet, but they’re people in the food world, in Brooklyn and New York that have reached out to us. But it’s taken us a little while to get the factory up and running again to rehire everyone.
The previous owners have been pretty public about where they think they misstepped. What do you take from that experience and how are you applying that to brand building and partnerships going forward?
At Ample 1.0, a lot of the hard lessons that were learned were exactly about how much energy we put behind those brand partnerships and, ultimately, what were they in service of. What we’re trying to get back to is doing what we do best, which is making Ample Hills ice cream for Ample Hills customers or Ample Hills fans. And that frees us up a little bit to be more creative. Personally, for me, working with Disney on these various projects was really, was a wonderful experience. I got to work with the artist who draws Mickey Mouse professionally. But from a brand perspective, it took so much time and energy to work with Disney who was just light years ahead of us. And we were constantly running around in circles to try and meet the requirements, to work with a partner that large.
They’re notoriously rigid with their brand.
And I don’t begrudge them any of it. But we weren’t at that level. They would have a team of 25 people that were overseeing a product and making sure that it meets of these standards and that all the packaging is correct. And we just didn’t have the bandwidth to support these projects at the level that we needed to. Our team was four people who are making it happen.
Any new flavors?
“Meet Me on the Long Meadow” was really the first flavor that we’ve released. And then we just sent out today a new pride flavor. That’s also brand new. And we’re trying to, create, I mean, it’s boring stuff, but the really important work of creating a calendar in it and a system so you can plan ahead and be creative within certain structures. It allows you the time and planning to distribute enough ice cream to all of your scoop shops across the country and sell it on e-comm. And you know, that having an understanding of what our end goals are and what the real reason that we’re releasing a new flavor and not having that dictated by a brand partner is really liberating.
Internal organization and process flow may be “boring,” but essential. Like with the Red Hook factory, which had a few problems. You guys are able to get that up and functioning in a more efficient way again?
Reopening that was a really big deal. They’re rehiring everyone that was furloughed during the pandemic, bringing back Matt Scott; he’s another one of the through lines. Matt and his team are really over the moon about being able to get a better handle of the schedule, to bring in someone who can manage food costs and our relationships with vendors, which was another big thing, a big learning, for Ample 1.0 and something that we don’t want to take for granted.
Do you have a favorite flavor?
It’s the “Pistachio Squared.” Most places when they make pistachio ice cream will do an almond or a different nut as the base because it’s less expensive, but “Pistachio Squared” is pistachio ice cream with pistachio brittle in it. And it’s just phenomenal. The runner up is “Corn to Run.” I’m a New Jersey native and the, the opportunity to draw a cow as Bruce Springsteen was something I’ll cherish forever.
Do you know if he’s had it?
Oh my God. The Boss. No, but if we can somehow make that happen, that would be a dream come true.
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