• at home and at work with
    AT HOME AND AT WORK WITH LAURA O'NEILL
    Co-Owner of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and Selamat Pagi . Read more from our visit to Selamat Pagi and to Laura's nearby Greenpoint apartment!
    April 23, 2015  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    Laura was at home in Melbourne when she received a call from her friend Ben on the opposite end of the globe. “I have this idea...,” he says. Her response - “that sounds just about crazy” - but perhaps brilliant enough that she found herself making ice cream in Ben's Brooklyn apartment a few short weeks later.

    After growing Van Leeuwen into NYC's favorite artisanal ice cream, Laura had an outlandish idea of her own - to convert the empty retail space in front of their Greenpoint factory into, of all things, a Balinese restaurant. Though a grand departure from frozen confections, the idea wasn't entirely random for the native Australian. Only a short flight from her homeland, Laura made frequent trips to the tropical paradise, and fell in love with the region's fresh and aromatic cuisine - "It's sort of a fusion between Thai and Indian, but a lot fresher,” she claims.

    Laura invited us to her restaurant, Selamat Pagi, to decide for ourselves. Located on a quiet block in Greenpoint (mere blocks from our own apartment), the unassuming storefront is marked by a bright blue door and lush bamboo bushes that flank both sides. Inside, the restaurant is decorated with fresh flowers in recycled bottles and live-edged, blonde maple throughout. Bright, yet rustic, the space cleverly draws inspiration from Bali and Brooklyn alike.
    Similarly, the food is a respectful ode to traditional Balinese cooking, but employs new world techniques that compete with the best of NY gastronomy. Conceived and prepared by chef Jason Greenberg, the fried chicken - brined overnight in yellow curry - was among our favorite variations of this oft-interpreted dish, and the sticky black rice pudding - garnished with yogurt, fresh mango and toasted coconut - was the perfect ending to a uniquely light, yet hearty meal.

    Satisfied and full, we made our way to Laura's apartment, only a hop, skip and jump away. As we chatted with the entrepreneur, we were amazed to learn that her life outside of work ran equally rich and deep. In addition to the two distinct businesses, Laura is one-half of the indie pop duo, Laura & Greg. Her passion for music is strewn throughout the apartment, and we spend a good bout of our visit browsing through her collection of LPs. And before heading out, Laura quickly makes mention of her fourth career as a party promoter, inviting us to “No Lights, No Lycra” - a global dance session she hosts weekly from a Greenpoint church.
  • WHY A BALINESE RESTAURANT? IT SEEMS LIKE QUITE THE DEPARTURE FROM ICE CREAM.

    I'm originally from Australia, which is a lot closer to Bali than we are now. But Ben and I had visited Bali three times together, and we both really fell in love with the food. It's sort of like a fusion between Thai and Indian, but a lot fresher. Lemongrass, galangal, tumeric, coconut oil - it has a lot going on, so it's very satisfying. During one of the trips, Ben and I took a cooking class together, and pretty much every dish from the class ended up on the menu, haha!

  • HOW HAS IT BEEN OPERATING TWO SEPARATE BUSINESSES AT ONCE?

    I think we initially thought that the restaurant could sort of be like a side project, but you quickly learn that you can't do anything in halves. All of a sudden, we're like, “Oh geez, we have a full staff.” But it's been a lot of fun - we had been doing the same thing for five years, so it's exciting to be doing something different. I feel very close to the project because it was my idea, whereas Van Leeuwen was an idea that Ben had. Definitely, Pete and I had a lot of input, but I really do feel like Selamat Pagi is kind of my baby.

  • I feel very close to the project because it was my idea...I really do feel like Selamat Pagi is kind of my baby.

  • HOW DO YOU GUYS DIVIDE ROLES FOR THE TWO BUSINESSES?

    We kind of always struggled with that. We're like, we really should have job descriptions and keep it a little more separate, but when you have your own business, you find you just have to do everything that needs doing.

    I think we naturally rely on our strengths. I'm definitely more into the marketing, PR, - and Ben's amazing with directing development and financials - whereas Pete's really great with technical stuff and managing the team. For the most part, we balance each other out pretty well. It's pretty crazy that we were able to tick all of the boxes we needed to get started with just the three of us.

  • WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT BOTH LIVING AND WORKING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD?

    Well, I really love that we've kept everything super local. I have like a thirty second commute to work, and the three of us all live within a ten minute walk of each other. Moving the ice cream production here has also allowed us to be a lot more inventive. We can do different flavors all of the time, and have even started borrowing some ideas from the restaurant, like sticky black rice and palm sugar, both Balinese inspired.

    I just really love Greenpoint - I love that you can go out here, eat here, run into people on the street. I'm like heavily integrated into the neighborhood, and have a lot of Greenpoint pride for someone who's not even American, haha!

  • I think we initially thought that the restaurant could sort of be like a side project, but you quickly learn that you can't do anything in halves.

  • I just really love Greenpoint...I'm like heavily integrated into the neighborhood, and have a lot of Greenpoint pride for someone who's not even American, ha ha!

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