June 21 marked Van Leeuwen’s 15th anniversary, an exciting milestone for the popular ice cream company that was born in Greenpoint and is still based here.

In 2008, Laura O’Neill, Ben Van Leeuwen and Pete Van Leeuwen started Van Leeuwen in an apartment on Driggs Avenue and called their growing company “as Greenpoint as you can get.”

Greenpointers spoke with cofounders Laura O’Neill and Ben Van Leeuwen about how the anniversary feels, what they are doing to mark the milestone, and the flavors they love right now.

Van Leeuwen’s original ice cream truck in 2008. Photo: Sidney Bensimon

Greenpointers:  Congratulations on Van Leeuwen’s 15th anniversary! How does it feel to get to this milestone?

Laura O’Neill:  It feels amazing. In some ways it feels like yesterday, but so much has happened over 15 years. We’ve grown the company to 1,000 team members and almost 50 stores.


Ben Van Leeuwen: What feels cool is that we are still based in New York, which is unusual. We are proud to be a New York-based business. And we’re still here. We didn’t close during the pandemic. We didn’t lay a single person off.

Laura O’Neill, Ben Van Leeuwen and Pete Van Leeuwen in front of their original truck. Photo: Van Leeuwen

Greenpointers: Van Leeuwen is a true Greenpoint local business. Tell us how it all started and how it stayed Brooklyn-based. 

Ben Van Leeuwen:  We started the business out of our apartment in Greenpoint with an ice cream truck that we ran around Brooklyn and Manhattan in. The business has grown a lot in 15 years. Today, there are about 50 stores in 7 or 8 states, and we sell to around 20,000 grocery stores nationwide. But it’s still based in Greenpoint.

Laura O’Neill:  We produce the ice cream here in Greenpoint in a factory on Dobbin Street. The first brick-and-mortar location was in Greenpoint. Our office is on North 11th. The apartment we started Van Leeuwen is on Driggs. So everything is within a few blocks. We’re as Greenpoint as you can get.

Laura O’Neill in front of Greenpoint’s Manhattan Ave. storefront. Photo: Sidney Bensimon

Greenpointers: You’ve advertised that, in honor of Van Leeuwen’s 15th birthday, you’re looking for a Lead Ice Cream Taster. How did you come up with this idea?

Laura O’Neill: As you can imagine, people are always asking if we need someone to test the ice cream. So, we thought it would be so fun to let people tell us why they love ice cream and why they love Van Leeuwen. We don’t do factory tours, so this is a unique opportunity for someone to come to the factory and see how the ice cream is made and help come up with flavors.

Greenpointers: What were the first Van Leeuwen flavors you started with 15 years ago? Do you still sell the same ones?

Laura O’Neill: The original ten flavors were classic. They were a celebration of a single ingredient per flavor. A lot are still on menu today like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Pistachio is still popular flavor. Hazelnut was on the original menu, but we don’t make that one anymore because it was not as popular in America. Now we do flavors with a lot more inclusions. We do indulgent flavors our way.

Ben Van Leeuwen: Stores have about 26 flavors now. But, we are commercializing 80 new flavors every year. Not all of them will be in all places. Some are exclusive to scoop shops, some are for our grocery store partners. 

A variety of Van Leeuwen flavors. Photo: Van Leeuwen

Greenpointers: Were Van Leeuwen’s popular vegan flavors part of the original menu?

Ben Van Leeuwen:  Vegan flavors came three years in due to customer demand. Our vegan is made with cashews, oats, coconut, and cocoa butter. It’s different than new high-tech vegan products. Ours are super high in fat, chewy, and delicious.

Laura O’Neill: We like to say that it’s ice cream that happens to be vegan. Our goal was to make vegan ice cream that was as good as the dairy ice cream we were making.

Greenpointers: Do you have a favorite flavor?

Laura O’Neill: I love our praline butter cake. We also have sorbet on specials this season. We have a lemon yuzu sorbet, and I’ve been really loving that with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. So it’s like a DIY creamsicle.

Ben Van Leeuwen: My favorite flavor right now is the peanut butter brownie honeycomb. It’s Mexican vanilla custard swirled with slightly salted Virginia peanut butter, chunks of homemade Ecuadorian chocolate brownies, and little pieces of honeycomb. Half of the honeycomb pieces stay crunchy, and half don’t because we coat half with coconut oil.

Decadent scoops from Van Leeuwen. Photo: Van Leeuwen

Greenpointers: Van Leeuwen’s tagline is “a life without anything good is bad.” How did you come up with this tagline and what does it mean to you?

Laura O’Neill: We worked with the agency Wieden and Kennedy five years ago. We wanted to distill our brand mission and values. We discovered that telling the quality story has become generic. There are so many brands out there that are not of the quality of Van Leeuwen, but they are using words like “artisanal.” So, we decided to pull back from that and distill that ice cream is about joy, the good life and indulgence. The agency came up with that tagline, and we felt it encapsulates the message that we’re not doing low fat ice cream. We think if you’re going to eat ice cream, eat ice cream. 

Greenpointers: You’re showing no signs of slowing down. Do you think you’ll still be making ice cream 15 years from now?

Ben Van Leeuwen:  As long as we can make really good ice cream and make a place that’s nice to work, why would we stop? It’s a good culture, and people are happy here. That’s maybe the part we are most proud of.

Join the Conversation


  1. Most ice creams in Greenpoint, albeit good, including this brand are super expensive.

    If you want a good inexpensive cone go to the new robot coffee shop around Nassau on Manhattan Ave.

    It only cost $2.

  2. Congrats on the anniversary! I do miss their coffee with my ice cream now that they’ve discontinued the coffee menu. Call me European but they belong together.

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