Some believe that the best things in life are free. Laura O’Neill, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, feels that the best things in life are good, specifically, ice cream. In 2008, Laura and her partners Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen began their ice cream operation out of a truck in New York City. They set out to make inventive, artisan ice cream using only high-quality and simple ingredients. Laura tells us that they were on a “mission to make good ice cream that makes you feel good because a life without anything good is bad.” Over ten years later, Van Leeuwen now makes 38 flavors (dairy, vegan, and oat milk), has 23 stores across NYC, Los Angeles, and New Jersey (and new ones on the way in Houston, Philly, and LA), and just launched 6 ice cream bar flavors. To get to know one of the visionaries behind some of the most exciting flavors in the freezer aisle, we chatted with Laura about her favorite ice cream toppings, art she’s into, and her favorite spots to eat in LA.
NBRHD: Tell us your story, elevator pitch-style:
LO’N: “Born in Melbourne, Australia, moved to NYC in 2007 and started Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. Currently living in LA with my boyfriend Greg, our cat Chimpin, and a baby on the way.”
NBRHD: What was your first memorable ice cream experience?
LO’N: “I liked ice cream as a kid but kind of lost interest as I got older. I think my first really memorable ice cream experience probably happened when we started making our test batches at home in Greenpoint. They were so simple and rich and delicious, and unlike anything I’d had before. An early favorite VL combo for me was our Ginger Ice Cream with house-made hot fudge.”
NBRHD: What’s your general philosophy around food?
LO’N: “I eat vegan mostly, sometimes dairy, and occasionally some fish, but I’m always looking for food that not only tastes good but leaves me feeling good.”
NBRHD: Tell us the birth story of Van Leeuwen in a tweet:
LO’N: “Ben, Pete, and Laura started VL out of a scoop truck in NYC in 2008 with the mission to make good ice cream that makes you feel good, because a life without anything good is bad. (Too many characters?).”
NBRHD: How would you describe Van Leeuwen in three words?
LO’N: “(Vegan) Ice Cream.”
NBRHD: Most underrated ice cream topping?
LO’N: “Caramel! It’s so good, but nowhere near as popular as fudge.”
NBRHD: What was the last delivery meal you had? How was it?
LO’N: “Pine and Crane (Incredible Taiwanese in Silver Lake). We got Bok Choy Pot Stickers, Vegan Mapo Tofu, Scallion Pancake and Dan Dan Noodles. It was amazing!”
NBRHD: How have you been decompressing lately?
LO’N: “Eating the new VL ice cream bars! I take a daily break and eat one outside in the sun. They are so good. Also, Peloton. I do Hannah Frankson’s classes, I love her. I have also been dipping into Robin Arzón’s prenatal classes.”
NBRHD: Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling burnt out?
LO’N: “Outside. WFH can be really draining, but getting outside and moving around makes a world of difference for me. In normal times I love going to see live music and always felt super inspired by it.”
NBRHD: What’s your go-to meal when you don’t feel like cooking?
LO’N: “An Erewhon Market opened in our neighborhood and I really love their pre-made jars. Especially their lentil and kale soup. That with avocado on toast is a perfect, easy meal.
NBRHD: Have you picked up any new hobbies this past year?
LO’N: “It’s really been the year of Peloton for me, but I’ve also really honed my rice bowl skills and put the Zojirushi rice cooker Ben Van Leeuwen gifted me to good use! (Is that hobby? lol).”
NBRHD: What’s the last great thing you read, watched, or listened to?
LO’N: “I watched The Sopranos from start to finish. What a show!”
NBRHD: What’s your favorite recent non-necessity purchase?
LO’N: “I bought a painting from an artist NYC Morgan Blair, she’s incredible and I’ll treasure it forever.”
NBRHD: What’s something you’re looking forward to when it’s safe to gather again?
LO’N: “Getting back to see my family in Australia.”
NBRHD: Favorite sweet and salty combo?
LO’N: “Costco organic peanut butter on steel cut oats with banana and blueberries. I’m also very addicted to Honey Mama’s Truffle Bars which are all a little salty.”