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Posted on Sep 13, 2020 in Blog, International

Ice Cream Wars

Ice Cream Wars

After I posted my piece about new ice cream places in the East Village and Lower East Side, “A Neighborhood for Ice Cream,” things happened. First, my favorite purveyor of mint chip ice cream, A.B. Biagi, closed. The owner initiated a Kickstarter campaign to produce cartons of popular flavors to be sold in Whole Foods and other upscale markets, but that never came to pass. Richard and I didn’t participate in the crowdfunding campaign — we were in Portugal at the time — but we’d hoped to see his ice cream continue even though the shop did not. The people working at our local Whole Foods started laughing at us when we came in asking about Biagi’s ice cream.

Il Laboratorio del Gelato moved across the street from longtime tenant Amorino, sparking an ice cream war.

More significantly, though, the other featured ice cream purveyors began to expand — and into each other’s turf. First, Il Laboratorio del Gelato set up a shop on the corner of University Place and East 10th St. across the street from an outlet of international chain Amorino. Then Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen moved into a storefront on Ludlow St. several doors down from the flagship Lab del Gelato on the corner of Ludlow and East Houston St. The other Brooklyn ice cream maker, Odd Fellows, decided to compete with itself, opening a new ice cream and coffee shop on the corner of East Houston St. and Mott St. in Nolita, only six blocks from its smaller original shop on East 4th St. between Second Ave. and Bowery. Tourist favorite Morganstern’s did a better job of planning its expansion beyond its Rivington St. shop, opening one in the middle of the NYU “campus” on the corner of West Houston St. and LaGuardia Place. When the new Morganstern’s opened, it featured much faster service and shorter lines, but that quickly changed as hordes of students discovered the unique flavors and fresh mix-ins. The beloved East Village purveyor of extra-large portions Mikey Likes It didn’t expand but has teamed up with New York City chefs to deliver a variety of new flavors.

A sad sight. The closed Odd Fellows on East 4th St.

The weeks-long shutdown due to Covid-19 had a large impact on all these businesses. Local ones received much-needed aid to survive the shutdown and come back stronger. Mikey remodeled his store, and I’m glad to say he seems to have weathered the pandemic. Odd Fellows’ strategy of competing against itself seems not to have worked, as both shops have closed and the company has retreated to its original outposts in Brooklyn. I was worried about Morganstern’s because of its dependence on both tourism and NYU students who were sent home in March. When I stopped into the new shop several months ago, it was still closed, with pickup-only of pints and limited flavors of cones at the same stand that served customers during the shop’s original renovation two years ago. Still, they were doing a good business among locals who had stayed in the city. Many were stopping by after dining outdoors in the surrounding streets of Greenwich Village.

In the meantime, Lab del Gelato, Amorino, and Van Leeuwen are still slugging it out. The Lab on University Place sustained a broken window during the June protests following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Even before then, the new outpost suffered from the presence of a sidewalk shed that obscured its entrance. A few months ago, a sidewalk shed popped up at Amorino across the street, which leveled the playing field a little bit. The other Lab and Van Leeuwen are still in their places, with Lab holding the advantage in terms of both visibility and customers. After trying out the Ludlow St. Van Leeuwen with my husband and kids, we decided it had overexpanded in terms of both locations and variety. The new flavors and concoctions didn’t have the quality which we appreciated in their shop on East 7th St. Often it’s best to do a few things well than a lot of things poorly.

Van Leeuwen’s on East 7th St. between First and Second Avenues.

While the changeover from summer to fall threatens to cut into demand for ice cream, NYU is back in person, and many families who fled the city are returning. I don’t expect the tourists to return for a while because of Covid-19 restrictions and the appalling performance of the United States in comparison to the rest of the world. In fact, my husband thinks that the cancellation of Broadway plays until well into 2021 is a deliberate move to prevent people coming to New York City from other areas of the country where the pandemic is completely out of control and official statistics are, at best, suspect. That may be true, but Broadway theaters are also crowded, with people sitting on top of each other in indoor spaces for hours at a time.

I intend to keep eating ice cream and trying out new places in the East Village even when the weather turns colder. After all, the colder it is, the less likely your ice cream cone will melt before you have a chance to finish it!

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