Coming slowly but surely to a grocery store near you is 5 Boroughs Ice Cream. What started with little more than a couple’s wedding present followed by some kitchen experimentation has become a quest to endow every New York City neighborhood with its own signature ice cream flavor. 5 Boroughs owners Scott and Kim Myles are the Big Apple’s Ben and Jerry, sans Birkenstocks. With 8 themed flavors, such as the Jackson Heights Mangodesh (Mango ice cream with a cardamom edge), 5 Boroughs Ice Cream is now available at places like Gourmet Garage and Cobblestone Foods. 5B was founded with a strong grassroots approach- the milk for the ice cream comes from Mercer’s Dairy upstate, a collection of 7 independently owned family farms. 5 Boroughs is also involved with community building and several local charities. Gothamist had the chance to speak with ½ of 5B, Scott Myles, in his Astoria living room last week.
Why Ice Cream?
Kim and I got an ice cream maker as a wedding present, and it was sort of the main object I had wanted to receive off the registry. We started fooling around in the kitchen with it- I had made ice cream before; we always had a lot of Schwann’s ice cream at family reunions when I was growing up. We always had to order a minimum amount by the half gallon in order for them to deliver to our house, so we’d have a downstairs freezer always packed with ice cream. Kim’s family was kind of the same way.
So we used this ice cream maker and played with flavors- I tend to be a kind of DIY guy. I’m always doing a lot of stuff like making my own peanut butter, juicing, cooking a lot at home, so ice cream was part of that. Then we had the idea one night on the couch, and started experimenting. All our friends liked what we were doing, even if it wasn’t always great.
We shelved the idea for two years, just because we kind of thought it was too crazy. Then it came up again, Kim said, “I’m so glad you came back to the idea. I really think this is the one.” So we started trying again.
We did some research, and I found out about a place called Ice Cream University that used to be in the Bronx. I went up there and took a short course for a long weekend. They teach you how to use a batch freezer, things like that, how to use the equipment. We were in Brooklyn doing a smaller size packaging, and later we got hooked up with a New York State program called Pride of NY, which helps small businesses, farms, and dairies. 5 Boroughs is actually now made upstate in Boonville, which is about five hours outside the city.
Your website prints good feedback on your ice cream but also unfavorable reviews. How come?
That’s really the only unfavorable review we’ve ever gotten. That guy was just so funny, and the review was just so well written, so after the shock of it wore away, I actually found myself laughing. He put a lot of effort into writing it- I thought, Hey, not everyone’s going to love what we do, so why try to hide that? You know, afterwards that same guy wrote that he needed to wash down the bad taste of 5 Boroughs Ice Cream with some Breyer’s. So, if Breyer’s is gonna do it for him…
You use ingredients like biscotti and baklava from Queens in your ice cream. It seems like your stuff is really small batch.
We do 50 gallon production batches for each flavor.
You also take ice cream flavor requests and suggestions from readers, right? People can suggest their own flavors?
Yeah, we get a lot of them. Some of them are great. Someone suggested some Caribbean flavors; we’ve had some good Harlem ideas. A lot of them are really funny.
Is it your goal to do an ice cream flavor for every neighborhood in the five boroughs?
Oh yeah, our goal is to get to everywhere. And then some. We don’t even have to necessarily do neighborhoods, we can also do institutions, or specific events. It’s never-ending.
You’re never going to go out to Long Island, though, right?
We wouldn’t mind going out to Long Island.
No, I’m sorry, I mean like with special Long Island flavors.
[Myles laughs] Long Island Flavors? I don’t know, man, we’ve got too much territory to cover here in the five boroughs. I have to say though, we get a lot of emails from Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey- people are like, “Hey, we’re the sixth borough. We need a flavor.” You’d be amazed by how many people say they’re the sixth borough of New York. We’ve even had someone from Florida write in.
Like the Ben and Jerry’s model, you donate proceeds of 5 Boroughs sales to charity?
Part of the founding idea of 5 Boroughs came about around the time of 9/11. In fact, making ice cream was a huge distraction for me, so when the idea came up, New York was hurting, and we were hurting, so we really wanted to do something that would make people smile, and give something back. We have a charity-specific flavor this year, NYPB, and we’re giving 5% of our profits to that. We give what we can right now- hopefully we’ll grow in the future. We donate a lot of ice cream for specific events.
We have grand plans, if 5 Boroughs ever became as big as a Ben and Jerry’s, for example, we’d have flagship stores, and do works programs with local kids. Also, the dairy industry itself- while I didn’t grow up with it- it’s a huge industry, with a lot of career potential, because there are so many different sides to it. So we’d be helping the smaller independent dairies. With the opening of franchises, there’s no better way to sort of feed into the ‘revolving door’ of good ideas, and giving back to the community. If people come in, get trained, open their own shops, they have to know where to get the goods in their neighborhood, so it stays local.
You could theoretically keep some mom and pop shops, like bakeries, by getting their product into your ice cream, too.
That’s the other idea. We advertise each of our local vendors on the back of our pints. The idea is to open up their businesses too. We’re always looking for new vendors to use their product in our ice cream.
Photo: balancing the flavors- Myles in his Queens apartment. 5 Boroughs Ice Cream is involved on the grassroots level with several New York area charities, such as the Food Bank of NYC, and the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens. For a list of 5B retail locations, please visit here. 5 Boroughs Ice Cream will also be served at the official release party of Michael Hearst’s Songs For Ice Cream Trucks, May 26th at Housing Works Book Store. For other upcoming ice cream events in your neighborhood, please visit the 5 Boroughs Ice Cream website.