Struggling but popular local ice cream purveyor Ample Hills — which filed for bankruptcy in mid-March — has since attracted the attention of over two dozen companies that are considering a bid to buy the brand, Eater has learned.
Consumer goods giant Unilever and Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s parent company Focus Brands are among the companies interested in purchasing the bankrupt scoop shop, according to several sources familiar with the bankruptcy proceedings. New York-based artisan ice cream company Van Leeuwen has also looked into the company, a source familiar with the matter says, but Van Leeuwen cofounder Laura O’Neill says the company hasn’t shown any interest.
Ample Hills’s Jackie Cuscuna, who co-founded the company with her husband Brian Smith, confirmed to Eater that 26 companies have approached them so far, but she declined to comment on the details of the sale process, citing non-disclosure agreements. The ice cream brand, which has a fervent fan base for its playful and nostalgic flavor combos, has 14 retail locations, mostly in New York.
Unilever has shown interest in buying the popular ice cream brand, two sources say. The publicly-traded behemoth owns over 50 food and beverage brands, but most are humdrum names associated with the grocery-store aisle — though it bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000. The company would likely fold Ample Hills into the business as a sub-brand similar to Ben & Jerry’s or Breyers, scaling up production and introducing the brand to more parts of the country, according to one source with knowledge of the discussions.
Local crowd-favorite Van Leeuwen, flush with cash from a recent $18.7 million investment, has also shown interest in purchasing Ample Hills, one source familiar with the discussions claims, although the company denies any such action.
Focus Brands, too, has been eyeing up Ample Hills, two sources involved with the discussions confirm. The company has been considering the potential to turn Ample Hills into a franchised chain similar to the other brands in its portfolio like Auntie Anne’s, Jamba Juice, and Cinnabon.
The financial terms of the potential bids are not yet public. Focus Brands and Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.
Ample Hills filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 15 in order to find a buyer that would be able to salvage the company and continue to grow it, Smith and Cuscuna tell Eater. The ice cream brand recorded $10.7 million in total revenue in 2019, compared to $6.9 million in losses, according to bankruptcy court papers.
When Ample Hills filed for bankruptcy in mid-March, the owners said at the time that the decision was due to ongoing issues within the company, and not prompted by the pandemic. The bankruptcy filing stated extreme delays with opening the company’s 15,000-square-foot factory, museum, and store in Red Hook as particularly detrimental to finances.
The company wanted to find a buyer “that ultimately has more financial experience and has the backing to support the growth of the company,” Smith says. “The process has all along been the search to find someone who can bring the capital and the financial expertise to the business.”
The pair hope to stay with the company in a creative leadership capacity after the sale is completed, but acknowledge that those decisions hinge on Ample Hills’s ultimate buyer.
The ice cream shop, known for its quirky flavor combinations like stout ice cream Boozy Breakfast, originally planned to remain open for online orders and takeout in the city during the coronavirus crisis, but has since shut down all retail locations and is no longer taking online orders.
Smith and Cuscuna say that they want to re-open the New York City shops as soon as the city allows, even amid the bankruptcy proceedings. The auction’s bidding and final sale process is scheduled to take place in mid-June.
The pair founded Ample Hills as a Brooklyn-based ice cream pushcart in 2010. In the past decade, the brand has grown to include 14 shops across New York City and a location in Florida, inside Disney World. A Los Angeles flagship location closed in January 2020.
Update, Thursday, April 23, 6:19 pm.: This story has been updated with a statement from Van Leeuwen denying that the company has expressed any interest in buying Ample Hills.