• at home and at work with
    AT HOME AND AT WORK WITH BEN VAN LEEUWEN
    Co-Owner of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. See our tours of the Van Leeuewens' East Village shop, along with Ben's backyard oasis in Greenpoint!
    April 23, 2015  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    For Ben Van Leeuwen, the all-natural slogans emblazoned on the sides of his artisan ice cream trucks are not just marketing catchphrases, but words to live by. When we arrived to the entrepreneur's Greenpoint apartment, he had just finished up his daily yoga routine and was in the process of preparing a smoothie from one of his self-perfected recipes. Using an industrial strength blender, he whipped up a concoction of fresh berries, bee pollen, chia seeds, and homemade almond milk - a food whose store-bought variety contains a shockingly long list of ingredients, he informed us. "Yah - I guess you could say I'm a health nut."

    As we sipped our healthful beverages, Ben recounted his disappointment by the frozen treats he used to peddle from Good Humor trucks during his college summers. This disappointment, coupled with a true passion for artisanal and unadulterated foods, inspired Ben to reintroduce a more classic approach to ice cream - a formula that completely eschews the additives common to nearly every other frozen confection. "We celebrate ingredients perfected by nature, not science," he likes to say.

    We soon made our way outdoors to Ben's backyard retreat. As further proof of his earnest enthusiasm for quality, all-natural eating, Ben harvests his own bok choy, herbs, lemongrass and peppers from his private garden. Amidst descriptions of the plant varieties and micro-climates of his backyard oasis, Ben intermittently offers a few endearing pearls of wisdom: "Life is precious - It's important to be in nature," he casually professes.

    It's clear that amidst his endearing quirks, orations, and youthful diversions that Ben's passion for wholesome living is not just a marketing ploy used to substantiate a higher price-per-scoop. Instead, it's an honest approach to living - one that fills the 28 year-old entrepreneur with enthusiasm for his family-run, passion-driven business.
  • SO THIS BUDDING EMPIRE STEMMED FROM YOUR IDEA? WHAT INSPIRED IT?

    This idea came about during my final semester in college. I knew I wanted to enter the food business after graduating, and had become really passionate about artisanal foods - food produced in a way that valued quality over efficiency.

    I had previously worked in restaurants and knew that I didn't want to become a chef. I had also driven ice cream trucks when I was younger, so I knew that could potentially be a lucrative business model. Something clicked where I thought, "How about selling a better quality ice cream from a better-looking truck?" I had a feeling it could be a big hit, even though some people thought the idea was a little crazy.

  • WHAT SETS YOUR ICE CREAM APART FROM ALL OF THE OTHERS?

    Our ice cream base has only a handful of ingredients. It is truly artisanal. Most ice cream has like 27 ingredients. Weird shit you can't even pronounce. It's trickery. An illusion to your taste buds. It won't make you feel good after you eat it.

    And we're really creative about our flavors. For our organic roasted banana flavor, we take bananas, we roast them with brown sugar, butter, salt and a little bit of molasses. Then we puree it and mix it into the custard base. It's really good. We recently did Virginia heritage peanut butter, with local Pennsylvania honey and roasted-banana. That was a big hit too.

  • Most ice cream has like 27 ingredients. Weird shit you can't even pronounce. It's trickery. An illusion to your taste buds. It won't make you feel good after you eat it.

  • I actually never have ice cream at home!...I try and keep healthier that way because I'm around it all day at work.

  • DO YOU KEEP A FREEZER STOCK FULL OF ICE CREAM AT HOME?

    I actually never have ice cream at home! People always come over here and are like "What?! there's no ice cream in your freezer?" I try and keep healthier that way because I'm around it all day at work.

    Instead, when I'm at home, I'll usually make myself a smoothie. I use 22 ingredients - super healthy. Bee pollen, chia seeds, flax seeds, cranberry concentrate, Ceylon cinnamon, almonds, honey, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, aloe vera juice, homemade almond milk, banana, fresh ginger. I think that's it - maybe it's not 22, but it's pretty good!

  • WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR HOME?

    I'm super excited about my garden - this is the first time it's really been done after living here for five years. My friend Matt is a landscaper and helped me put it all together. It's awesome - I'm excited to get to use it.

    I have Bok Choy, herbs, lemongrass and peppers growing. You can eat the cactus as well. This is an indigenous cactus, but it became nearly eradicated by invasive European weeds, so you don't really see them anymore. This area would have been filled with a lot of cactus 500 years ago, so they thrive. These guys are growing so fast - we just planted them on Saturday! I have some wild ginger and bamboo planted back here too.

  • I'm super excited about my garden - this is the first time it's really been done after living here for five years.

  • Bok choy, herbs, lemongrass and peppers. You can eat the cactus as well...I also have some wild ginger and some bamboo planted back here.

  • I thought, 'how about selling a better quality ice cream from a better-looking truck?' I had a feeling it could be a big hit, even though some people thought the idea was a little crazy.

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