“Brooklyn makes the best pizza, but you can’t go wrong with Bronx Italian ice,” says Gene Raphael Miller, a filmmaker turned frozen dessert entrepreneur with his latest venture, Bronx Ice. The first two shops opened in Greenpoint (1048 Manhattan Ave.) and the Upper West Side (782 Amsterdam Ave.) in early August, after a pandemic-related pivot delayed Miller’s original plans to debut outside Yankee Stadium.
Miller, a born-and-raised Bronx native, whose parents also hail from the borough, still wanted to keep the Bronx branding of his ice company. His mom, in fact, was one of the first employees of Bronx-based Haagen-Dazs, working as a scooper in the 1965. The brand’s fake Danish-sounding name invented by founders Reuben and Rose Mattus was to remove their upscale product from its Bronx roots, something Miller doesn’t want to do with his company 55 years later.
“I’ll hear people walking by and say, ‘Why not Brooklyn ice?’ or that they ‘Won’t buy anything Bronx,” Miller says, noting that he’s trying to destigmatize the Bronx name among New Yorkers. “If the product is good, why does it matter? We’re all the same city.”
The all-natural base for Bronx Ice’s products comes from a wholesale produce seller in Hunts Point Market, so the fruit is fresh loyal to its borough of origin. Miller learned to make the product from professionals at Emery Thompson, a well-known ice cream machine company that started in the Bronx, though relocated to Florida.
Bronx Ice is Miller’s passion project, and, ideally, a way for him to continue funding his indie films. “The frozen dessert industry always felt like, you know, you can make some money with it,” he says, noting his family’s lifelong friendship with the Mattus family. Some of Bronx Ice’s flavors, are named after films, like Grapefruit Moon (an unproduced project Miller slated Michelle Rodriguez for) and a blood orange and blackberry mix called “Orange is the New Black,” named for Miller’s collaborator Natasha Lyonne. He’s also developing a streaming series for children based on original Bronx Ice characters.
Already a destination this summer, Bronx Ice will expand to Greenpoint Terminal Market, as well as several restaurants and bars in the near future. Neighborhood fans include Greenery Unlimited (91 West St.), where Bronx Ice will park an ice cart on upcoming weekends, and Homer Murray, owner of 21 Greenpoint (21 Greenpoint Ave.), who plans to vend Bronx Ice soon. Adding Bronx ice to a menu or takeout window can be yet another way for restaurants operating at half capacity to accrue more revenue, Miller points out. He also plans to expand to Hollywood, California, where he hopes leveraging the Brooklyn popularity of the product will make Angelenos (and NYC expats) crave the cold treat even more.
“We’re most excited to supply more people with Bronx Ice,” Miller says.