Ice Cream Brand Thriving After Filing for Bankruptcy

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: May 22, 2024

In 2011, Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith launched Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn, NY. Their journey began with a simple ice cream pushcart, but the duo quickly turned it into a popular local shop.

Despite their early success, they faced significant challenges ahead.

Rapid Expansion

By 2020, Ample Hills had expanded to 13 stores across the nation, shipped ice cream online, and reached a net worth of $40 million.

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A scoop being inserted into a container of vanilla ice cream, with the ice cream showing a creamy texture

Source: Dovile Ramoskaite/Unsplash

Their unique flavors and celebrity endorsements from Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg helped boost their popularity.

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Financial Trouble

Despite the outward success, Ample Hills faced financial difficulties due to overspending on a large ice cream factory and elaborate packaging.

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Financial paperwork alongside a booklet with the title “Bankruptcy Chapter 11”

Source: iStock

By March 2020, the financial strain was too much, leading to bankruptcy.

The Bankruptcy Fallout

The bankruptcy was a major blow to Cuscuna and Smith, who also had to file for personal bankruptcy six months later.

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Petition to file for bankruptcy papers.

Source: Melinda Gimpel/Unsplash

The couple was left financially devastated, facing an uncertain future.

A Glimmer of Hope

Schmitt Industries, a machine parts manufacturer venturing into food, acquired Ample Hills for $1 million.

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This sale provided some debt relief, but the couple’s losses remained significant. Despite the setback, they were determined to make a comeback.

Starting Anew with The Social

In 2021, Cuscuna and Smith opened a new ice cream shop in Brooklyn called The Social.

Ample Hills Creamery shake being held

Source: Ample Hills Creamery/Instagram

This venture marked their fresh start and demonstrated their resilience and commitment to the ice cream business.

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Reclaiming Ample Hills

In a remarkable turn of events, they repurchased Ample Hills for $150,000 in June 2021 with new partners.

A woman is pictured eating an ice cream on a sunny day

Source: Freepik

This acquisition allowed them to revive their beloved brand and apply lessons learned from their past experiences.

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Lessons Learned

Reflecting on their journey, Cuscuna and Smith adopted a more cautious approach with their new venture. They emphasized financial discipline, industry expertise, and finding the right investors who shared their vision and values.

A stock market graph open on a computer. There are lots of green and red lines with numbers running up the right-hand sign of the graph.

Source: Nick Chong/Unsplash

“In terms of growth, I mean, we’re going to approach it very slowly,” Smith told CNBC. “The focus is really getting those systems down [and those] operations tight so that we can focus on the brand building again.”

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Financial Discipline and Strategic Decision-Making

Cuscuna underwent business coaching and forged valuable connections.

A row of $100 bills representing a significant amount of money.

Source: Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

The couple prioritized profitability and industry expertise by appointing seasoned professionals to critical positions, ensuring a more sustainable business model.

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Industry Struggles: Applebee’s Closures

Ample Hills isn’t alone in facing financial challenges. Applebee’s recently announced multiple closures in recent years due to changing consumer preferences and rising operational costs, reflecting broader struggles in the food industry.

A photograph of a large Applebee’s logo outside of a restaurant

Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images

These closures highlight the shifting landscape and the need for adaptability in business.

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Industry Struggles: Red Lobster Bankruptcy

Red Lobster has also filed for bankruptcy, highlighting the difficulties many established food brands are encountering.

A dish featuring a cooked lobster split and topped with herbs, served alongside steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes with a pat of butter, all arranged on a blue-rimmed white plate

Source: Red Lobster/Facebook

Economic pressures and changing dining habits contributed to their struggles. These high-profile cases underscore the volatility of the food industry and the importance of resilience.

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A New Beginning

Today, Cuscuna and Smith own a modest stake in Ample Hills as they chart a course toward sustainable growth.

A child holding an ice cream cone against a dark blue background.

Source: Patrick Fore/Unsplash

While not ideal, bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily spell the end for a business. As seen with Ample Hills, it can actually be an opportunity for rebirth and learning from past mistakes.

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