Ample Hills founders start anew with The Social

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A look inside the new scoop shop, run by Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna of Ample Hills fame.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The founders of beloved ice cream parlor Ample Hills Creamery are looking to start over with a new shop called The Social, where sweet-toothed Brooklynites can get not just ice cream, but donuts as well.

The Social represents a second shot in the ice cream biz for the married founders Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, after Ample Hills filed for bankruptcy last year owing to a series of poor financial decisions, and was subsequently sold to an Oregon manufacturing company. In an interview with Brooklyn Paper, Smith said he and his wife opened a new shop because it’s all they know.

The entrance to The Social.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

“We don’t really know how to do anything else but make ice cream,” Smith said over the phone while making ice cream at the shop. “This is what we love and care about. We spent a year sitting on our butts during the pandemic, planning and thinking and dreaming and reassessing, and that was enough. It was time to get back in it.”

The Social opened on Sunday, July 25, with Sen. Chuck Schumer on hand to help cut the ribbon at the new store at 816 Washington Ave. in Prospect Heights. Smith says that business has been great, to the point that they are struggling to keep up.

“We’re struggling to keep up with production right now, which is a very uncomfortable place to be, but it’s better than nobody coming into the shop,” Smith said. “I’m optimistic and hopeful, people seem to be enjoying the new flavors and the donuts, it’s very exciting to see the response and the feedback. We’re just getting started.”

Ample Hills, which opened its first scoop shop on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights in 2011, quickly ascended the ranks of the Brooklyn ice cream world with their unique flavors and blends, and expanded rapidly, running 16 stores in four states and a massive production facility in Red Hook at their commercial peak in 2019.

Brian Smith and his wife Jackie Cuscuna in their old scoop shop.File photo

While sales were high and the brand remained a fan-favorite, Smith said that the couple had simply let the success go to their head and expanded too quickly, with the 15,000-square-foot, $6.5 million Red Hook factory being the nail in the coffin for the chain’s finances. The Oregon manufacturing company, Schmitt Industries, purchased Ample Hills for just $1 million in 2020, despite the company having done $10 million in sales the year before, per bankruptcy filings.

Starting over, Smith says he wants to farm out the business and financial side of things, which he admits he was never good at, and stick to what he knows best: making ice cream.

“Even if The Social grows into a larger business, I want to remain focused on what I like to do, which is create fun flavors of ice cream,” he said.

The Social’s space is three times the size of Ample Hills’ original Prospect Heights location, Smith said, and it has a large party room that they will use for birthdays, ice cream socials, classes, and other activities. The main space holds five large booths plus outdoor seating in lawn chairs. The kitchen features a large window out into the main area so gorgers can see how the ice cream sausage gets made, with large steps next to it so young children can see as well.

The party room.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

“It’s theatrical,” Smith said. “People don’t necessarily get to see ice cream being made all the time.”

Once a month, The Social plans to partner with a local nonprofit to hold an ice cream social fundraiser, where they will unveil a new flavor-of-the-month voted on by fans online and allow kids to churn it themselves.

As for the ice cream itself, all of the flavors are new, with no importations from the Ample Hills days, and they will also be serving donuts, ice cream sodas, and sundaes, to name a few. Everything is made from scratch in-house, currently only by Smith and one other employee, though they plan to scale up their hiring to meet demand.

Brooklyn Paper visited The Social on Tuesday and sampled a donut sundae, featuring a cinnamon donut, one scoop of Hydrox cookies and cream (Hydrox being the original Oreo, which Oreo then got rich off of), and one scoop of Double the Dough cookie dough ice cream, along with hot fudge, milky whipped cream, and a cherry. While the donuts have room for improvement, the ice cream is just as good as you remember it.

A donut sundae at The Social.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The couple will not be leaving behind what they learned at Ample Hills, of course, with most of the flavors being innovations upon fan favorites. For instance, Ample Hills’ eccentric Breakfast Trash, where ice cream was infused with numerous cereals and then topped with Fruity Pebbles and Froot Loops, has been reborn as O Captain! My Captain!, which is Cap’ Crunch infused ice cream topped with Fruity Pebbles tossed in white chocolate, which Smith says will keep the Fruity Pebbles from getting soggy.

“Why would we open something and just do the same exact thing we did before,” Smith said. “People expect us to innovate and improve upon what we did. That’s what excites me about making ice cream.”