PROSPECT HEIGHTS — There are a lot easier ways to do what Brian Smith does.
But for the owner of Ample Hills Creamery, doing things the hard way — pasteurizing locally sourced milk, hand mixing every batch of ice cream — has already paid off. When the artisanal ice cream shop with its toothache-sweet decor opened at 623 Vanderbilt Ave. a year ago, sugar-crazed mobs scooped up its entire stock in just four days.
"We were definitely psychologically prepared for a failure," Smith said. "But I really wasn’t prepared for the success, and the crowds and the numbers of people that came the first four days and how much ice cream we went through and how quickly."
A year later, Ample Hills, which takes its name from the Walt Whitman poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," is prepared to succeed. In addition to mixing hundreds of gallons of ice cream — about 40 gallons of "Salted Crack Caramel" alone — they're actually planning to sell out.
"We'll lower the price for each scoop of ice cream for each flavor that gets sold out," Smith said. "As flavors get sold out throughout the day, the price drops. The last four flavors we’ll give away for free, which is what we did when we opened."
Though the shop boasts 21 unique favorites, the foodie favorite here is the Salted Crack Caramel — a scoop so good it earned the Village Voice's best flavor and a nod from New York magazine for New York City's "Crackiest Crack Food."
"That was a great honor, to get mentioned in the same category as Momofuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie," Smith said, referring to the popular East Village eatery favorite. "We didn’t think we could possibly sell any more Salted Crack Caramel than we were already selling, but the weekend following that piece, a full 20 percent of our sales were that one flavor of ice cream."
Ample Hills makes all its ice cream and most of its toppings in-house, a process customers can watch while they wait in line.
"I think the authenticity of the experience of people coming in and seeing how and where the ice cream gets made from beginning to end is a great part of what makes Ample Hills Ample Hills," Smith said.
He explained the store's sweat equity is what keeps lines snaking out the door on most weekends — no small feat in a neighborhood already saturated with artisanal ice cream in the heart of handcrafted Brooklyn.
"We earned those lines," Smith said, as he finished mixing a batch of Ooey Gooey Butter Cake — another of the shop's most popular flavors — in preparation for Saturday's celebration. "It's a wonderful problem to have, but it’s still a challenge to produce enough ice cream this way.
'We've been hanging on by our fingernails."