Food and drink / Funding / Investing / Venture capital

An ice cream shop just raised $8 million in venture capital money. Why?

Ample Hills founder Brian Smith explains.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the Ample Hills funding round at $7.2 million. The company filed an updated form with the SEC reflecting the $7.99 million figure now listed in the story. The headline has been changed to reflect the update. (1/22/18, 10:19 a.m.)

An ice cream shop needs venture money to grow rapidly, same as any other company.

So says Brian Smith, the cofounder of Brooklyn’s Ample Hills Creamery, which raised $7,999,943 big ones last quarter.

“It seemed like what we created might have legs beyond our Brooklyn roots and there was no way to do that on the slow boil of the profits of one shop to the next shop to the next shop,” he explained by phone last week. “We’d be here 10 years.”

Ample Hills makes gourmet ice cream that kids like. Flavors include “ooey gooey butter cake” and “peppermint pattie.” Smith said that he saw two opportunities in the marketplace: one was to make an ice cream shop that people could hang out in, a la Starbucks’ “third place” idea. The second was that gourmet ice cream is made more for adults than it is for kids, and kids are the customers Ample Hills wants.

“You can’t do that with goat cheese and saffron ice cream,” he explained.

One of Ample Hills most vocal funders is Brooklyn’s own Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, led by Charlie O’Donnell. O’Donnell led the $4 million seed round Ample Hills raised in 2015, though he didn’t participate in this latest round, which was led by Rosecliff Ventures.

“Venture capital is for growth companies… Not just tech companies,” O’Donnell explained in a text message. “Same with Shake Shack, a public company. I def would have wanted in on that seed or Series A.”

Smith and his wife and cofounder Jackie Cuscuna poured their life savings into Ample Hills in 2011. In 2014, the company got some big press from Oprah Magazine and from the Wall Street Journal. One of the Journal’s readers, Disney CEO Bob Iger, read the piece and ordered some of the ice cream.

“Two or three days later he emailed us and said, ‘This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Maybe Ample Hills at Disney?'” Smith recalled. “It was one of those things that fell out of the universe and dropped us on the floor. I didn’t even think it was him but I answered back that sure we’d be interested in that.”

Since then, Ample Hills has created custom ice creams to go along with Disney properties like Star Wars and opened up a shop at Walt Disney World in May of 2016.

With the funding round, Smith says the company will look to expand its number of shops from nine today to 14 by the end of the year and to more than 20 by the end of 2019. With added production capability, the company will also be rolling out pints, to be distributed nationally.

Companies: Brooklyn Bridge Ventures
Series: Brooklyn

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