Lower East Side Ice Cream Stores Crack Down on Sample Hogs

By Serena Solomon on July 17, 2012 6:59am 

Gigi Xing at Il Laboratorio del Gelato gets ready to scoop some gelato.
Gigi Xing at Il Laboratorio del Gelato gets ready to scoop some gelato.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER EAST SIDE — No sample for you!

Fed up with indecisive customers who create never-ending summer lines, some ice cream and gelato stores on the Lower East Side are serving up an ironclad two-sample maximum policy, owners told DNAinfo.com New York.

"If a group of eight people come in, that is still 16 samples," said Jon Snyder, the founder of Il Laboratorio del Gelato on Ludlow and East Houston streets, who has a strict two-sample rule for customers.

"If any of my staff break it, I flip out," added Snyder, whose store has over 200 flavors of gelato and sorbet, ranging from avocado to tangy lemon basil. 

"I want to be fair to everyone," he said. "I don't want someone to say, 'Well, I had more then two samples the other day.'"

Because much of Il Laboratorio del Gelato's business comes from its wholesale business, selling to about 400 restaurants around the city, there has been some talk of banning samples altogether, Snyder said. While his staff does serve customers from the space's storefront, they also have to balance that with their responsibilities preparing the product in "the lab" in the back. 

When Snyder learned the trade from his grandparents, who operated a Carnival ice-cream store, buying the product didn't present the same risk it does today.

"We had two flavors — vanilla and chocolate," he said, adding that no other industry, except for wine, has the expectation of free samples.

And as ice-cream and gelato flavors becoming more adventurous, confused customers often ask for multiple samples before they invest in a scoop of icey relief. But for stores and patrons, the time it takes to dole out samples can mean a longer wait for service.

Susan Pecot, who was vacationing in New York from California, made the most of the two-test limit at at il laboratorio del gelato, knocking back the Blackberry Port after a sample before settling on an even more outlandish flavor.

The sign at Il Laboratorio del Gelato warns customers of the two-taste limit per customer.
The sign at Il Laboratorio del Gelato warns customers of the two-taste limit per customer.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

"I never would have ordered the pink pepper with tarragon" without the help of a sample, she said, of the $4 small serving she bought.

The popular Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street farther Downtown also has a two-test limit to keep lines moving.

"Some people are really shocked by some of the flavors," said Yu Chung, a 21-year-old store assistant who scoops out such peculiar flavors as Black Sesame and Red Bean.

"Ice cream is a little bit of a commitment."

While most people purchase something after a sample, Chung said there are several elderly customers who regularly sneak a taste without any intention of buying.

"They don't speak English and just point at the flavor," she said, turning a blind eye to those who get their ice-cream fix on the sly. Some customers even taste test after they purchase, she added.

But owner Junie Ishimori, who runs the vegan ice-cream store Stogo on East 10th Street and Second Avenue, said her customers are welcome to try as many of the 48 flavors as they want.

"We want people to be happy with what they get," said the 39-year-old, whose products are made out of soy, coconut or hemp.

"If you have a customer who is trying everything, while they do that you can serve others," Ishimori said. The store gets approximately 1,200 customers per week, and doesn't use a line system, instead serving whoever's ready, she said.

Sixx Lisman, of Long Island, went with the bananas foster flavor at Stogo after taking a lick from one of the store's biodegradable sample sticks.

"If there is an interesting flavor, you want to try it first," said the college student.

But she admitted that she hates being on the other side, waiting at the mercy of a customer seemingly intent on sampling every possible flavor.

"It can be annoying," she said, rolling her eyes.

Lisman's friend Julie Schneider, a fellow student and vegan, said customers should be policing their own taste-testing limits by employing a simple practice.

"You should try two, and if you can't make a decision," she said, "then go with something normal."

The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory makes its ice cream at the store's location on Bayard Street.
The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory makes its ice cream at the store's location on Bayard Street.
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Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

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