New Kid on the Block: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

I’ve often noted that so many local chains have incubated in Tribeca, but did not realize till last night that Van Leeuwen can sort-of be counted among them.

It was 2008, and Ben Van Leeuwen (in the photo above with a young friend) had brought the newly minted Van Leeuwen Ice Cream truck to Tribeca for the Manhattan Youth street fair next to the ballfields — it was their first day of business. He was scooping away when a rep from Whole Foods came for a cone.

“He asked, ‘Would you like to sell your ice cream at Whole Foods?’ and I thought, it can’t be that easy,” Ben said last night. But it was — three months later they had their first account, Whole Foods Tribeca (and I still remember getting my first taste from the brothers themselves in the aisles and have the hole-y t-shirt to prove it).

The company was founded by Ben, his brother, Pete, and his ex-wife, O’Neill. They still run it, but now, with 31 shops and counting (19 in the city), it is a much bigger financial operation than those first days driving a decommissioned postal truck painted yellow around the city. They’ve had two rounds of private equity to expand both the wholesale business (the ice cream is made in Greenpoint) and the retail business; the three are still majority owners.

But scooping is still where it’s at for Ben, who spends a lot of time in the shops still. The openings are not *quite* as exciting as it was initially (the first one opened in Greenpoint in 2010), he said, but being there to see people enjoy their ice cream holds the same power. (The idea started with him too — he drove a Good Humor truck as a senior at Greenwich High School in 2002 and came up with the idea for selling gourmet ice cream from a truck after spotting a Mr. Softee on his way to a job interview in finance after college.)

“For me the most joyful part is being around people and serving people,” Ben said. (Present storefront excluded, he said his favorite is the East Village, which is made largely with black walnut paneling and cozy.) “The best part of the ice cream business is it’s all in the moment. It’s not like buying a cool pair of jeans. Being on my feet and working gives me that instant gratification.”

We ran through quite a few samples last night and I have to say my son’s order of dark chocolate fudge brownie on a chocolate chip cookie was my favorite of the night — the ice cream was super creamy (they do it with high egg yolk percentage). The mint chip reminded me of Friendly’s, which in my world is a compliment — I grew up on the stuff. Also highly recommend the brown sugar cookie dough because, well, brown sugar plus cookie dough.

At most new locations they try to partner with a local business, so Ron Silver from Bubby’s has created a Tribeca exclusive: a crumbly strawberry rhubarb pie with a lot of pie crust texture. And artist Jon Burgerman has crafted an original design for this scoop shop.

“We are still really obsessed with ice cream — the P&L is interesting, but what really drives me is product,” Ben said. “We were never really into the marketing. I remember I said, ‘Maybe we should hire a marketing person?’ and Laura said, ‘We market every day by making good ice cream and hiring nice people to serve it.'”

PS: A pro tip for home scoopers: buy a Zerrol ice cream scoop. “They sell it at MoMA. It’s that nice.”

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
310 Greenwich at Duane
Sunday to Thursday, 11a to 12a
Friday and Saturday, 11a to 1a



  1. very excited to have a new scoop shop in the neighborhood. still miss the ice cream counter at duane park cafe. can’t wait to try our van leeuwen! weekend forecast looks perfect for ice cream

  2. I am personally a huge fan of Van Leeuwen’s vegan mint chip and other flavors, BUT I am ethically conflicted by their blatant disregard for NYC’s ban on cashless businesses (a practice that discriminates against POC).

    I wish you’d ask why they persist to do this despite increasing (unpaid) fines, because I’d like to support them. Love their products, but hate their stance on this!

    • You are absolutely WRONG! The only people cashless businesses discriminate against are people that detest credit card companies and/or refuse to use cards for privacy reasons. For those reasons alone, cashless businesses should be banned.To say that the policy discriminates against people based on their skin color is absolutely ridiculous! Are you really saying that people of color are too stupid to get a free bank account and free debit card? Sounds like you’re the racist to me!

  3. to ConcernedLocal- most of the time a business like this goes to cashless it’s because of previous robberies- obvs not at this location because it just opened

    • It’s also a much faster checkout process since you don’t have to waste time exchanging money and counting change. Helps at a high turnover business with long lines like Van Leeuwen. Good for customers and for the business.

    • Anyone that has run an operation that requires cash handling employees knows the challenges of running a “money room”. That includes giving each employee a cash till which then needs to be reconciled at shift end, regular cash drops, and other general loss prevention challenges and expenses, including register cameras and DVRs.

      Robberies/break-ins did happen in my time in retail and hospitality, but more often than not, it was an insider shorting the company – usually with fairly sophisticated methods. The till was always “whole” when they settled the shift, but cash was being pocketed.

    • @AndyJ @person @alee
      I personally use credit cards but please understand my point – there is a cashless ban in NYC (and many other cities) for a reason, as I posted above. Most people can, will, and do use credit cards. BUT – I keep reading that Van Leeuwen is constantly in violation of the ban despite racking up fines, and I don’t hear about other violators, so I wonder why.

      Clearly, all these issues you point out are not stopping every other business in NYC from following the law.

      • Well aware of the fines. But if that’s the only penalty, and they can afford it, well… not much stopping them is there?

        Many laws exist here that are more or less either casually enforced, or designed to be money grabs for the city. I’d hedge it costs Van Leeuwen less to pay the fine than to operate a business that accepts cash, for all the reasons I highlighted.

        I’d guess it’d probably cost them up to 50k a year to do a whole daily cash settlement process across all their locations. It’s not just about counting money at the end of the day – it’s also about regular cash drops, employee training, as well as all the BS that comes along with terminating an employee who was caught stealing.

        • That’s assuming Van Leeuwen has paid a cent of the fines it has accumulated. The Eater article that ConcernedLocal provided states that it hasn’t, but that was back in November.

          Is there any update on this?

  4. @Jane who called me racist: Perhaps you should educate yourself on the LAW in NYC and why the ban was passed. Google is your friend – simply type in “cashless ban NYC” and learn about it.
    Do some research on why cashless bans have been enacted in NYC and across the country. From the legislation that was passed in NYC:
    “In New York City, the majority of the nearly 12 percent of unbanked and 25 percent of underbanked residents are people of color. Close to 17 percent of black New Yorkers and 14 percent of Latinx New Yorkers are unbanked, compared to just 3 percent of white New Yorkers.”

    @Jane – to call POC “stupid” because they don’t have bank accounts or credit cards is incredibly uneducated and lacking in empathy (to put it mildly) on your part.

    Poor and low-income New Yorkers face numerous barriers in accessing banking. The poorest neighborhoods of New York’s five boroughs have the fewest bank branches in the city. While technically the ID NYC card that can be issued to undocumented New Yorkers enables them to open a bank account, many are not aware of this, and less than 30 percent of banks and credit unions in the city accept ID NYC as valid identification.

    Perhaps Jane is privileged and thinks it’s very simple to open a bank account or get a credit card, and she probably doesn’t know anyone who is low-income, but it would do her well to think about others who don’t all live in Tribeca and don’t have the same access and income as she does. I may live in Tribeca but I do know New Yorkers who do NOT have bank accounts or credit cards for the reasons listed above.

    • As a 55 year old black woman who grew up in NYC, I find your response to my previous post absolutely dripping with condescension, arrogance, and false assumptions.
      I’ll try to address your comments in order. I’ll start with your comment “Perhaps you should educate yourself…” As I have a PHD in Classical Studies and Masters Degrees in American History and Political Science from a private university. I really don’t need someone like you to tell me to “educate myself”. As for your suggestion to use Google, I’d never use any service provided by that evil and anti-American company.
      The reason WHY the ban on cashless businesses was passed is based on the invented concept of “disparate impact”, a concept invented by radical America haters 10 or 15 years ago. Since there was no “racist intent” in Van Leeuwen’s (or any other business’) cashless policy, the impact is ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT! The ONLY legitimate reason for any jurisdiction
      to ban cashless businesses is to protect Citizens like me who CHOOSE to NOT use credit cards because they refuse to patronize credit card companies and/or refuse to use debit cards for privacy reasons (at least whenever possible).
      Here is an example of “racist intent”… After President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” multi-generational, multi-trillion dollar welfare program was passed, he said to his political aides and several congressmen, “Now we (the Democrat Party) will own the n*****s for another hundred years!” THAT IS “RACIST INTENT”!
      Here’s one more example of “racist intent”. Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood in order to reduce the black population. Here are her words…”“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” ~ Letter from Margaret Sanger to Dr. C.J. Gamble, December 10th, 1939. Another prime example of “RACIST INTENT”!
      Here is an EXCELLENT article about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood if you’d like to “educate yourself”.
      Regarding your comment “@Jane – to call POC “stupid” because they don’t have bank accounts or credit cards is incredibly uneducated and lacking in empathy (to put it mildly) on your part.”, you COMPLETELY misconstrued what I meant. As a black woman, I am saying that YOU and anyone else who supports the cashless business ban FOR THE SPECIFIC REASON the law was passed are the racists. What you and they are saying is that black people like me are too stupid to obtain bank accounts and debit cards. NO one in my extended black family has EVER had an issue obtaining bank accounts and debit cards. The reasons people don’t have bank accounts are due to things like lack of motivation, laziness, career criminality, or absolute refusal by them to do ANYTHING to improve their lives. Whatever the reasons, this phony culture of victimhood among POC must stop! Their skin color is not the issue, it’s the way some of us POC (but not me!) think.
      As for your comment “While technically the ID NYC card that can be issued to undocumented New Yorkers enables them to open a bank account, many are not aware of this…” NO illegal aliens should be able to obtain ANY ID or Driver’s License, or a bank account, debit or credit card or loan, attend a publicly -funded school, purchase insurance of any type, or register a car because they shouldn’t even be here! Every breath they take in America is an offense to the law.
      I’ve enjoyed our back and forth. Perhaps we can keep it going. I really do hope you can get out of your bubble and think about things like a real American. Maybe you can even “educate yourself”.

      Much Luv,


      • Not going to engage with this person with a multitude of issues including self-hatred and hatred for others.

      • “The reasons people don’t have bank accounts are due to things like lack of motivation, laziness, career criminality, or absolute refusal by them to do ANYTHING to improve their lives.”

        Those reasons don’t cover all people who would prefer to use cash.

        Some folks simply want to remain anonymous when buying something as minor as an ice cream cone. They may have no criminal intent or lazy bone in their bodies.

        Others are simply children or people with disabilities who may not have access to e-payments or for whom e-payments are impractical.

        Still others simply want to simplify their lives by not opening too many, if any, e-payment accounts.

  5. This is a ridiculous conversation. The real barrier to low-income people of all backgrounds to purchasing an ice cream cone at Van Leeuwen’s is that fact that a single scoop is $6.25 PLUS TAX ! Plus optional gratuity, but optional only if you can ignore the need for the mostly young and very friendly VL counter workers carrying home a fairer take-home pay. The vast majority of us — even those of us from relatively “privileged” backgrounds and educations — do not casually spend this amount on a single scoop when there is rent or mortgage to be paid, plus a myriad of other necessities. This is particularly the case when, if the urge for ice cream strikes, one can walk a couple of hundred steps to even the generally overpriced Whole Foods to pick up an entire pint of Van Leewens for $6.25 or perhaps a bit more when it is not on sale. And Ben & Jerry’s and Talenti are currently available at WF for $7.00 for two pints. I’m not demanding that VL lower its price so that those other than spendthrifts or investment bankers (to whom $6.25 a scoop is chump change) can afford to buy one, two, three or more scoops. Van Leewens has what I presume is a gigantic rent to pay from the owners of IPN where VL maintains its well-situated shop. Just stop railing against the wrong thing. And, by the way, in light of the very real threat of store robberies (and the danger to the young people working at Van Leuwens), the rationale for a “no cash” policy is all the greater.

    • I don’t think that this pricing is exclusive to Van Leeuwen. We went to Downtown Yogurt & Ice Cream last week and got two scoops of mint chip ice cream in a cup and one (smaller than expected) chocolate milkshake and it was $17 and change. I agree, it’s much more frugal to get a pint from the grocery store, but there’s something so wholesome and nostalgic about going to an ice cream shop that I can’t stop myself sometimes. VL also sells their pints in store. I haven’t gotten a chance to price compare, but I expect that they’re the same price or cheaper than in Whole Foods.

  6. I’m a senior citizen who does not own a credit card nor do I wish to own one. I find that paying in cash makes it much easier to track my expenditures. No one else in all these comments has noted that aside from the New York law regarding cash, cash is LEGAL TENDER in all 50 states of the United States. I have come across this three times in food establishments and when they inform me that they don’t accept cash I simply say, “Yes, you do, it is a New York law.” And I immediately placed the exact sum on the counter, took my food and walked out.

    • Some of us did make this point and explained why not accepting cash is illegal in NYC (and other jurisdictions). I am not the one who drafted the cashless ban legislation. I simply pointed it out and the fact that it cites discrimination as its basis.

      I’m getting my popcorn 🍿 ready for Jane to start her tirade. Of course she is Making NYC Great Again and thinks seniors without credit cards should NOT be allowed in food establishments anyway. Ready… set… go…