Six months ago Ample Hills—the beleaguered ice cream company the New York Times once dubbed “Brooklyn’s most beloved”—suddenly closed its doors. But it may soon be back for a third time.

And in a sweet twist, the new owners are believed to be the company’s original founders, Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith, according to two sources familiar with the company’s operations. After opening 17 locations, gaining endorsements from Oprah and other celebrities, and launching a partnership with Disney, the company melted down in the winter of 2020. The couple lost control of the business in a $1 million bankruptcy sale to an unlikely buyer: Schmitt Industries, an Oregon manufacturing company that makes laser scanners and sensors for propane tanks.

In the summer of 2020, Schmitt’s CEO Michael Zapata rehired 100 Ample Hills employees,  reopened 10 shops, and began adding locations. But the company abruptly shuttered all of the shops in December 2022. Fast Company learned that the company recently quietly filed in New Jersey for receivership, which can be a cheaper and faster process than bankruptcy.

Zapata did not respond to a request for comment.

According to court documents, an entity registered as Do-Nut Hills acquired the Ample Hills intellectual property, including some 70 recipes Smith and Cuscuna had created, the company’s trademarks, websites, and social media accounts. Do-Nut Hills belongs to Cuscuna, Smith, and a new investor the pair lined up, according to multiple sources, including Greg O’Connell, who was Ample Hills’ largest investor in Smith and Cuscuna’s time, and the landlord of their factory and office during their tenure and Zapata’s.

O’Connell added: “Brian and his group were seen on the property by my staff clearing the HQ space out of its valuables.” The court documents also note that “Do-Nut Hill Assignees will take title to any personal property” at all of the locations. Smith and Cuscuna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The address listed for Do-Nut Hills belongs to Lisa Teach, an investor who is the former director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Separate from Do-Nut Hills, Teach paid $5,000 for two Ample Hills company vehicles, according to court documents. (Teach declined to comment.)

Along with the IP, Do-Nut Hills also took over the leases to three locations, including the Brooklyn location where Ample Hills first opened in May 2011; one in Astoria, Queens; and one on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which opened last year. For all of this, Do-Nut Hills paid $150,000.

Despite sales that grew every year, Smith and Cuscuna had been forced to file for bankruptcy in part because the pair had built a 15,000-square-foot factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that opened more than a year late and vastly over budget—$2.7 million more than the original $4 million. As the bankruptcy filing put it: “In practical terms, Ample Hills built out a factory in order to increase volume and lower costs, but the opposite happened, and the losses have mounted.”

After Schmitt took over the factory, the brand continued to lose money. For the fiscal year ending May 31, 2022, Ample Hills lost $7.6 million, according to the company’s earnings report. In April 2022, Schmitt announced Ample Hills would be its “core focus,” enabling Schmitt to “accelerate its Ample Hills growth strategy.”

To keep Ample Hills afloat, Schmitt sold one of its Portland properties for $5.1 million in November 2021, and a second one for $3.5 million in June 2022.

“The transaction will provide us with capital to support Ample Hills’ growth,” Zapata said in a statement about the June sale.

In December 2022, Schmitt announced in a press release that Ample Hills was shutting down “for at least a week” to try to seek funding, noting that if it could not “it will be required to shut down operations indefinitely.” Ample Hills never reopened.

Schmitt was delisted from Nasdaq in January after the stock price plunged to mere pennies per share.

No one has yet purchased the factory lease in the court-ordered auction, though the NY-NE Dairy Consortium—a consortium of organic dairy farmers in New York and New England—bought the equipment in the factory for $50,000.

Meanwhile, Smith and Cuscuna never gave up on their ice cream dreams. In July 2021, the pair unveiled The Social, an ice cream and doughnut shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. On opening day, July 25, the line stretched, perhaps poetically, nearly four blocks to Vanderbilt Avenue—where they had opened their original Ample Hills shop exactly 10 years and two months before. They add the hashtag #foundersofAmpleHills to each of The Social’s Instagram posts.

Because at the time the recipes the couple dreamed up for Ample Hills no longer belonged to them, they set about tweaking some. Enter Ooeyer & Gooeyer, an upgrade of Ample Hills’ famous Ooey Gooey flavor. Ample Hills had been named for a line in a Walt Whitman poem, so at The Social, inevitably, there was another Whitman reference: “Oh Captain, My Captain!,” a breakfast cereal extravaganza of Cap’n Crunch infused ice cream with clusters of white-chocolate covered Fruity Pebbles. (Ample Hills once had a flavor called Breakfast Trash, made with five different kinds of cereal.)

Like many things at The Social, the new flavors draw on lessons the couple learned from Ample Hills. Smith told the Brooklyn Paper that the Fruity Pebbles in “Oh Captain, My Captain!” were tossed in white chocolate to keep them from getting soggy.

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

Or as the website for The Social notes: “We made some critical mistakes. We grew too fast too soon… We spent the past year learning from our mistakes.”

It adds: “Like so many people, we are starting over.”


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