We had the pleasure of tasting Luca & Bosco Ice Cream earlier this month at the Harlem Helps Benefit in Ginny’s Supper Club. With a unique flavor palate, Harlem- based Luca & Bosco Ice Cream has been captivating New Yorkers since its inception in 2012. We were able to catch up with Ruthie and Catherine, the founders of Luca & Bosco, to learn more about their sweet business.
How did you get your start in ice cream, and how was Luca & Bosco formed?
As two New Yorkers obsessed with food, we started the company as a fun passion project, working on it during nights and weekends in addition to our full-time jobs. After flirting with the idea of leaving our day jobs to work on the business full-time for over a year, we were both laid off last Spring. Given that we were working in two totally unrelated fields, and were given notice one week apart, we took it as a sign from the universe that it was time to take the leap and pursue the businesses full time. We opened our first (mini) retail location in the historic Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side in September of 2013 and are excited to be going into our first warm season.
You have a lot of inventive ice cream flavors! How do you come up with new flavors? You’re based in the historic La Marqueta in East Harlem. Do you draw any inspiration from your location in Harlem?
We draw our inspiration from everything. New York City, with its many diverse and multicultural neighborhoods, traditions, foods and restaurants is a place that never ceases to inspire our palates. The City has truly nurtured our exploration of different foods, ingredients, and flavors… and Harlem is no exception. We’ve played a lot with Piloncillo or Panela (a type of unrefined sugar that tastes similar to brown sugar that’s very common in Central and South America) and can be found in so many East Harlem bodegas. We also have played with different versions of banana and coconut ice creams which are again ingredients that are very commonly found in East Harlem with it’s large Latin and Caribbean populations.
What are your most popular flavors, and have you been surprised by the demand for any flavors?
We have definitely been surprised (and excited) by how popular some of our more unusual, or less traditional flavors have become. Our most popular flavors are Drunk & Salty Caramel, Honey Lavender, Whiskey Fudge Rebellion and Goat Cheese. Other flavors, like Rosemary Olive Oil and Double Cinnamon also seem to be growing quite a cult following. We set out to bring deliciousness to people’s lives one scoop at a time, and hoped they’d be willing to really explore different flavors in offerings that are less traditional/commonplace, and we’re so excited that our customers have really embraced it! Though we make a killer vanilla bean ice cream, we’re glad our regular customers are choosing our more unique signature flavors.
Have you encountered any challenges since beginning in 2012, and what lessons have you taken away from them?
Financing, financing, financing! Our biggest hurdle has been how intensely expensive it is to start a brick and mortar business in New York City (a City that commands some of the highest rents out there!). Additionally, we’ve learned that it’s really hard to come across good financing when you’re a startup without a proven track record. What this reality has taught us though is to be very nimble, creative, and adaptive, always adjusting course to the possible. For example, we currently produce out of a kitchen incubator program (a shared commercial kitchen in Harlem), and we raised the money for our first batch freezer (ice cream machine) on Kickstarter (a crowd sourcing fundraising site).
What are your plans moving forward?
We’re working on building our brand and expanding our business. In order to do that we need more space and to move into our own kitchen, and once that happens we’re planning to launch a wholesale presence at supermarkets and restaurants. We’re also so excited to go into our first warm season at our retail location; the polar vortex was harsh on our new, seasonal business!,We’re looking forward to being busy enough to hire employees, as the idea of creating something and creating employment opportunities for others was part of the real draw for us to start our own business.
As an added bonus, check out Luca &Bosco’s recipe for a Coconut Cinnamon Banana Sundae here: http://www.marcussamuelsson.com/recipe/luca-boscos-coconut-cinnamon-bananas-sundae