Much like Howlin’ Ray‘s, LudoBird and Salt & Straw, which started off as food trucks before planting themselves as brick-and-mortars around Los Angeles, Van Leeuwen made rounds from Abbot Kinney to Little Tokyo before setting up shop at One Santa Fe in between EdiBol and Malin + Goetz. Vegan Ice Cream in Downtown LA
The artisan ice cream shop specializes in unique flavors. Vegan flavors from “Turmeric Palm Sugar” to “Red Currant” and classic flavors from “Sicilian Pistachio” to “Honeycomb” are on this week’s menu. The vegan ice cream contains cashew milk, an ingredient that has also enhanced Go Get Em Tiger‘s latte. Coconut milk tends to have a more acerbic taste, so the cashew neutralizes and helps relish the creaminess of the ice cream. There’s also affogato and sundae options. A single classic scoop costs $5.50.
During my first visit at the ice cream shop, I bought a scoop of the classic Earl Grey. Not only did it look and feel hefty, it was jam-packed with the bitterness and tartness of the black tea. This week, I got to sample Van Leeuwen’s rendition of a sundae with the classic chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors. The strawberry is the standout in terms of creaminess.
The artisan ice cream was founded in Brooklyn by Laura O’Neill and brothers Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen in 2008. Now with eight locations spanning the East and West Coasts, Van Leeuwen has been around the Arts District for almost a year.
“The Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Book,” available on Amazon, is filled with unique ice cream flavors and confectionary complements such as pistachio shortbread and marshmallows.
Here is what co-owner Pete has to say about the goodness that lies within the artisanal ice cream.
Katrina Guevara: Were you always in the food industry?
Pete Van Leeuwen: No, though I’ve always been a bit obsessed with food. I used to spend my time in Brooklyn playing in bands at night and art handling during the day.
KG: Did you have a favorite ice cream flavor and brand growing up?
PV: Jamoca Almond Fudge from Baskin-Robbins was my childhood jam.
KG: From the early stages of the Arts District brick-and-mortar, how has your perception of the area changed?
PV: Well, when the Arts District first appeared on my radar two-and-a-half years ago upon moving to L.A., it felt totally dead. In just that short time, it feels a little more bustling everyday with a seemingly endless procession of restaurants, bars and boutiques of all kinds opening up.
KG: How did the vegan ice cream come about? Was it a challenge to initially create?
PV: We started working on our vegan ice cream about four years ago. Initially, we were just using a coconut base. We found the coconut flavor was too strong for certain flavors, and that got us going— working toward the perfect vegan base using house made cashew milk, coconut milk, single plantation Ecuadorian cocoa butter and extra virgin coconut oil. Though we are always slightly tweaking the base ratios to make the ice cream better and better, I feel as though we are making the best vegan ice cream in the world. It’s a regular occurrence at the shops and trucks that vegans think we gave them the dairy ice cream by mistake upon tasting it. It’s insanely good.
KG: How many flavors on average are at the Arts District location? Which shop serves the most flavors?
PV: We always have 10-13 classic dairy flavors and between 8-10 vegan flavors.
KG: Why is the shop open rather early in comparison to other L.A. ice cream places?
PV: We also have an amazing coffee program using Toby’s Estate Coffee and Farmshop pastries, so that’s why we’re open early. Ice cream is often an after dinner time treat, so we stay open until 11.
KG: How do you feel the palettes of Americans have changed within the last decade?
PV: It’s been an exciting last decade for food lovers in America. It is easier and easier to find people making food with beautiful ingredients and a level of integrity and passion that makes for some pretty special culinary experiences. I think with that movement happening in nearly every city from NY to L.A., and plenty of small towns in between, it is only natural that the American palettes are changing. People are slowly, but surely demanding and wanting a better, cleaner and often time, more nuanced product.
KG: If you could serve your ice cream to any public figure, what flavor would it be and to whom would you choose?
PV: Probably Leo DiCaprio, even though he already frequents our shops and trucks. And it’d be our “Sicilian Pistachio.” Reason being Leo is really just because I admire him on several levels that go way beyond the talent that the world knows him for. I find it very righteous and extremely important how he is using his celebrity to do real work as an activist, environmentalist and educator, helping to bring these issues to the world. The world seems to listen to beloved celebrities more than they’d listen to scientists and no name environmentalists and what have you. Leo apparently understands this and uses his power to affect change. He works with Parley for the oceans, is finishing a documentary and constantly bringing attention to some of the world’s most pressing climate change problems. I ramble. Point is, I respect him greatly for caring so.
KG: What is the most satisfying aspect of running artisan ice cream shops and food trucks?
PV: Getting to overhear people swoon over how much they love what they are tasting!
KG: What other projects can we expect from Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream?
PV: In Brooklyn, we have an Indonesian-inspired (long story) restaurant called Selamat Pagi. As for new projects and direction? Well that’s a secret, but we did just produce the most delicious sorbet I’ve ever tried: a chocolate sorbet using Askinosie single plantation chocolate. It won’t last long!
For more info., visit: www.vanleeuwenicecream.com.