With liquid-nitrogen ice cream shops opening in Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and now the East Village, it’s safe to say there’s an appetite for the sci-fi dessert. But while the trend sweeps New York, two ice cream shops specializing in the cutting-edge procedure have clashed, with accusations of plagiarism and blatant imitation flying around. The frozen treats may be ice cold, but tempers are heating up.
“They know we’re a hot topic right now,” said Allen Ruan, co-founder of -321° Ice Cream Shop, which has been around since last year. He explained that the flask design, the logo, and the name “-321°” are in the process of being registered, but that “we have the right to first use in commerce,” meaning that whoever came up with an image or logo and used it within a specific context first has the right to lay claim on it and use it.
Ruan also said that the new shop is causing confusion among longtime customers. “We have customers asking us if [Lab-321°] is our second shop.”
However, Lab-321° insists their concept has nothing to do with Ruan’s. Shirley Tang, the co-manager at Lab-321°, said, “We have our own trademark, we don’t sell the same thing.”
The specialty of -321° Ice Cream Shop in liquid-nitrogen ice cream, a treat that’s more reminiscent of a laboratory experiment than a home-churned sweet treat straight from the a bucolic dairy farm. It’s made by adding liquid nitrogen to a liquid cream concoction (think melted ice cream) and churning it all together to create the familiar thick, creamy texture in minutes.
On the other hand, Tang explained that her shop’s specialties are marshmallow dips (marshmallows speared on a stick, covered in liquid ice cream, and then dipped in liquid ice cream), dragon’s breath (popcorn on a stick immersed in liquid nitrogen), and Thai-style rolled ice cream. “These are totally different things,” Tang said.
She explained that the rolled treats are made by chopping up ingredients such as cookies, fruits, and chocolate into liquid ice cream, which is then spread on a cooling pan (cooled down to -13°C, or 8.6°F) and rolled into six individual rolls and then adorned with various toppings.
Tang argued the use of the term “-321°” simply came from the fact that liquid nitrogen cooled at that temperature. The shop plans to expand its menu soon to offer more liquid nitrogen-based treats, such as liquid nitrogen-dipped ice cream egg rolls.
However, Ruan wasn’t satisfied with this explanation. “The actual temperature of liquid nitrogen is -320.44°F,” he said, explaining that he had rounded up for simplicity’s sake. “If Lab-321° said they are just using the temperature of liquid nitrogen, they should have just used -320.44 or -320.”
Regardless, he was already in the middle of taking legal action. “We sent them a cease and desist letter. I actually called them, but they just hung up on me,” he said. Ice cold indeed.