Houstonians won’t find “regular” ice cream at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. When the Brooklyn-based producer opens its first Houston location in Rice Village this Saturday, May 8, they’ll find every pint is labeled “French ice cream.”
What’s the difference? Allow co-founder and CEO Ben Van Leeuwen to explain.
“We have to call it French ice cream, because the FDA, if you have more than 1.3-percent egg yolks, requires it to be called ‘custard’ or ‘French ice cream,’” Van Leeuwen tells CultureMap. “Depending on the flavor, it’s 5 to 8-percent egg yolks. It’s lots of eggs, lots of cream, no weird stuff.”
Van Leeuwen has followed the same approach — “lots of eggs, lots of cream, no weird stuff” — since the company’s founding in 2008. Houston will be its third market, joining New York City and Los Angeles. Dallas will be fourth, although the company hasn’t finalized locations there.
In addition to the Rice Village store (2565 Amherst St.), the company will open in Uptown Park and the Montrose Collective, the new mixed-use development currently under construction on lower Westheimer. Van Leeuwen selected Houston for a number of data-driven reasons related to the city’s relative affluence and size, but there’s a more emotional aspect, too.
“In many ways Houston represents the best of what America can be,” Van Leeuwen explains. “It is one of the most diverse places in the world and only becoming more so. It is a living example of why diversity and differences make communities so much better.”
Getting back to ice cream, using all those eggs gives Van Leeuwen’s flavors a toothsome quality that lingers on the palate. Vegan ice creams, which are made with either cashew or oat milk, use coconut cream and cocoa butter to achieve a similar effect.
The distinct flavors come from an obsession with sourcing high quality ingredients such as Sicialian pistachios, cold-pressed, Tahitian vanilla, and organic black tea from Rishi. Treating those ingredients right means keeping a close eye on how the ice cream is made.
“We’re still making all of our ice creams in Brooklyn,” Van Leeuwen says. “I wish we were big enough to have factories and make it locally. But because we produce everything ourselves from scratch, we need to and like to have complete control. A lot of our processes are unusual for an ice cream business of this scale.”
For example, the Honeycomb flavor uses a honeycomb-shaped candy that’s made in house. Van Leeuwen’s bakery makes inclusions like graham crackers and brownies.
The shop will feature approximately 30 flavors, split roughly evenly between dairy and vegan options, including four specials that rotate monthly. In addition to scoops and toppings, the location will sell sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, root beer floats, milkshakes, and the company’s new line of ice cream bars.
Every Van Leeuwen location opens with a limited edition flavor that will only last for about six weeks. For Rice Village, it will be Yellow Rose Bourbon Pecan Pie, which is made with bourbon sourced from Houston’s Yellow Rose distillery. When Uptown Park opens in June, it will feature a horchata flavor developed in collaboration with Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega, whose new restaurant will open nearby.
Between now and Saturday, the company’s ice cream truck will be popping up around town to give Houstonians a preview (follow on Instagram for details). On opening date, scoops will sell for $1.