A Hip Ice Cream Maker’s Scoop on the Los Angeles Food Scene

A Hip Ice Cream Maker’s Scoop on the Los Angeles Food Scene

Pete Van Leeuwen of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream takes eating seriously. Here's his LA hit list for food—and favorite 'cream flavor.

In a city with 284 annual days of sunshine and a perpetually summery climate, knowing where to get a good, cold ice cream cone is key. But Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream is hardly just good—it’s an elite indulgence, a high-ranking member of the premium ice cream category (aka, the ice cream world’s luxury line), and a standout in this ‘cream-crazed city. Why? This is a spare-no-expenses dessert made with, for instance, $12-a-pound Michel Cluizel chocolate and a variety of pistachios found solely on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Founded nine years ago in Brooklyn by brothers Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen and their partner Laura O’Neill, Van Leeuwen debuted in Los Angeles in 2014 with a single mobile ice cream truck. A second was quickly added, then the brand opened up stores in the trendy Arts District, the design-forward Platform development in Culver City, and finally, a new flagship in stylish Franklin Village.

So where does Van Leeuwen co-founder and LA transplant Pete Van Leeuwen nosh outside his own successful sweet shops? Luckily, he’s willing to give us the scoop.

Van Leeuwen's Los Angeles Ice Cream Truck

Pete Van Leeuwen, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, hands out a cone from one of the company’s newer Los Angeles-based trucks. Photo by Sidney Bensimon

LUXURY RETREATS: Van Leeuwen is one of Los Angeles’s new guard of ice creameries. How does the company fit inand stand outin the city’s broad ice cream landscape? 

PETE VAN LEEUWEN: Los Angeles is such a huge city, and not just from its population. It’s so physically sprawling that there’s room for a lot of ice cream. There’s something for everyone here. And Van Leeuwen is a particularly good fit here because of the way our product is made. We produce, ingredient-wise, the cleanest ice cream around, as well as the most absurdly rich and decadent vegan ice cream on the market. And the integrity in which with we do this definitely jives with LA livin’, in my opinion. It’s for people who enjoy living a healthy lifestyle and eating as cleanly and simply as possible.

LR: Where do you eat or snack at in LA when you’re not eating ice cream?

VAN LEEUWEN: Guisados has the best tacos I know of in Los Angeles, and the best handmade tortillas by far. And I love Destroyer, a super-simple, clean, beautiful breakfast and lunch spot in Culver City, and Sqirl, in Echo Park. Everything I’ve ever eaten at Sqirl, I’ve loved. Another favorite is Pine and Crane in Silver Lake. I over-order every single time because there are simply too many delicious looking things on their menu. That said, I never leave with a doggy bag, either. I also frequent Kinjiro in Little Tokyo, for interesting and innovative takes on traditional Japanese Izakaya. The restaurant also has the best sake list I’ve seen.

Van Leeuwen Founders

The Van Leeuwen founders, from left, Pete Van Leeuwen, Laura O’Neill, and Ben Van Leeuwen, at one of their brick-and-mortar stores. Photo by Sidney Bensimon

LR: If you indulge in ice cream other than Van Leeuwen’s, whose do you eat or admire?

VAN LEEUWEN: I like Carmella and McConnell’s.

LR: What is your absolute favorite public place in LA, and why?

VAN LEEUWEN: Griffith Park, hands down. I find it crazy that you can be surrounded by millions upon millions of human beings one minute, and five minutes later be walking your dog in near perfect silence up a mysteriously empty, gorgeous trail that winds through old oak trees and massive beechwoods.

LR: For anyone trying Van Leeuwen ice cream for the first time, is there a flavor or combination that you’d particularly recommend?

VAN LEEUWEN: Sicilian pistachio is my reigning favorite and crown jewel. It takes me to parts unknown every time I taste it. Then there’s our New Yorker sundae, my favorite combo. It’s made from espresso ice cream, homemade hot fudge, and cacao nibs. I don’t do whipped cream on mine, though some people like it.

Van Leeuwen Banana Cream Ice Cream

Van Leeuwen’s by-the-pint ice cream is in the midst of going national, and is now available in some western region Whole Foods stores. Photo courtesy Van Leeuwen/Instagram

LR: What’s new or next for Van Leeuwen?

VAN LEEUWEN: We’re currently working on expanding our wholesale products to go national. We just started selling Van Leeuwen through Whole Foods’ Southern Pacific region, which includes 29 stores in Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona, as well as Erewhon Market. We are also going to be introducing a novelty line as well as a line with no refined sugars, i.e., no cane sugar. We’ll likely use date sugar.

LR: We consider Van Leeuwen ice cream a luxury product, not because of its price tag but because of its high quality. So what does ‘luxury’  mean to you?

VAN LEEUWEN: To me, it’s anything that’s been thought out, carefully considered, and executed with great care and tastewhether that’s food, a garment, the room where you’re standing, the chair you’re sitting on, or a bed you’re sleeping in. It can be a scent in the air you are breathing, or the hot spring you’re soaking in. I guess to put it simply, luxury is the momentary realization that something is just right, just then.

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