Volume 81, Number 16 | September 15 - 21, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop’s opening on E. Seventh St. earlier this month was a major event.
Reinventing ice cream in a big way at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
By BETSY KIM
Both old and new fans of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s frozen concoctions lined up outside 125 E. Seventh St. earlier this month at the opening of Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff’s newest cool offering — the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.
The Contra Band, eight contra bassoonists, added to the fanfare. A towering drag queen, Ari Kiki, “The Hot Mess,” with her flowing brunette beehive, welcomed the 100 first customers, waiting outside on Saturday afternoon Sept 3. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, dressed as a priest, “Father Tony,” provided opening remarks to bless the enterprise.
Quint and Petroff intentionally parked their brick-and-mortar store at this spot in the East Village.
“When you walk out on E. Seventh St., the street is filled with people eating,” Quint said. “That’s one of the things we always enjoyed about the ice cream truck is that people buy their cones and eat on the street. They party on the street and we wanted a storefront that was similar, where people would be outside and having fun.”
Arriving at the party-like scene to say hello, Stacy London, a host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” posed for photos with B.G.I.C.S. customers.
“Oh my God! I’m so excited they are opening!” London gushed. “Hopefully, I will be a guest scooper and work in the truck. I love how they sparked such a following. It’s something everyone can get on board with. Who doesn’t love ice cream?”
But more than just ice cream, the enthusiasm celebrated reinvention.
It’s the same soft-serve ice cream but with a twist. Added ingredients like toasted curry coconut, fig sauce, wasabi pea dust and Trix cereal piqued people’s curiosity as much as their taste buds.
“That’s what I love about it,” said Nora Vetter, a self-described foodie. “It’s not your Plain Jane vanilla and chocolate.”
Reinvention was one of the driving reasons behind establishing a permanent store. The entrepreneurs needed prep space beyond their rented kitchens.
“Creatively, what I could do in the truck was getting maxed out by the space limitations,” said Quint. “And people were obviously behind it and grooving on what we were making.”
There’s also the reinvention of names. With signature treats such as the “Choinkwich,” chocolate ice cream and bacon marmalade, between chocolate cookies; the “Gobbler,” vanilla ice cream, pumpkin butter, whipped cream and craisins; and the “Salty Pimp,” vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate dip, the ice cream has, well, been making quite a name for itself.
Instead of customers saying they wanted vanilla ice cream, with crushed Nilla wafers, and dulce de leche, they could just order the “Bea Arthur.” That signature dish is named after the well-known actress, because in addition to enjoying her big gay icon status, in her will, Arthur left a charitable contribution of $300,000 to New York’s Ali Forney Center, an organization that supports homeless L.G.B.T. youth.
Many of the customers also felt the Big Gay Ice Cream truck and store are part of the trend of reinventing marketing through social media.
“Their personalities are very entertaining and I wanted to check them out in person,” said Vetter. “I kind of run in the cupcake circle and started following them on Twitter.”
With more than 24,000 Twitter followers, Quint connects with many customers through tweets as he does in life, with lighthearted humor.
For example, on the second day of business, a man and a woman walked out of the shop, with only the woman carrying an ice cream cone.
“You didn’t have anything?” asked Quint.
“We’re sharing,” the woman replied.
“Don’t share!” he scolded them.
Dave Armon, who brought his 15-year-old daughter, Cassie, to the opening said, “They have a strong social-media presence. People feel really engaged. The ice cream is nothing special. But the toppings are original and the branding is so perfect for a case study for someone in marketing.”
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck launched in summer 2009, in the age of Twitter and TV cooking shows. Featured on “Eat Street” on Food Network Canada and on the Cooking Channel in the United States, B.G.I.C.T gained a following. A group of four Canadians doing a food tour in New York were among the store’s first visitors. One of them, Albert Lau, said the ice cream was something they couldn’t get in Toronto and he wanted to try the “Bea Arthur.”
Through Twitter, Quint met the artist who painted the store’s large mural unicorn, who wears a Bea Arthur cameo medallion, and gallops across the wall facing the Tang machine. (Yes, the drink of the astronauts is revived in a commercial juice dispenser.) The artist paints baby murals for nurseries.
“He’s this huge gay guy who puts glitter everywhere,” said Quint. Similar to how one customer noted the culinary combinations are fun and unexpected, but somehow work, why not paint a modified nursery mural in an ice cream shop?
At least one of the customers enjoyed the reinvention of attitude.
“I love anything that’s big and gay!” said Jon Winkleman, with hearty laughter. “As a gay man from New York, it’s great to see something that worships carbs and calories. Gay men who embrace carbs! Yay! Wonderful freedom from the gym Nazis.”
Winkleman added that he was tickled to hear that the shop receives letters from heterosexual parents whose kids want to drive a Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.
Finally, like Madonna (another gay icon), there’s a little reinvention even in Quint and Petroff, themselves. Previously, Quint was a classical bassoonist. A couple of the players in the Contra Band were his former conservatory teachers. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, a master’s degree from Julliard and his doctorate (all but dissertation) from CUNY.
Petroff worked in corporate human resources. However, both of them have left behind those careers.
“There was a terrifying aspect to it, because there goes our health insurance. There goes all that,” said Quint. “But it was too good not to do it.”
Where does the inspiration come from?
“A lot comes from Bryan, who is just a very adventuresome eater,” Quint said. “A lot of it is just dreaming it up.”
The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. It’s somewhere over the rainbow swirl of ice cream (the company’s logo), in the East Village, where dreams dared to be dreamed really can come true.