Here’s a scoop: Oddfellows is open again in Williamsburg.
“We’re right on Domino Park this time,” said Andy Mullins. “I’m staring at the Empire State building.” The new shop is a few blocks south of the original, at the intersection of Grand Street and River Street. Like before, patrons can sit by the window and take in the Manhattan skyline. And instead of tables and chairs there are now booths opposite the L-shaped counter for groups.
Mullins, the Head of Retail at Oddfellows Ice Cream Co., has cause to celebrate. The New York Ice Cream industry has suffered a (pardon the pun) meltdown in the last year. Brooklyn-based Ample Hills declared bankruptcy in March, LES staple Morgenstern’s (temporarily) closed their original location, and Oddfellows itself had to shutter its East Village and Nolita locations over the summer after having closed their original Williamsburg location in December.
Before the lockdown, the company was on an upward trajectory. The Brooklyn chain boasted six locations, including the two in lower Manhattan and one near Boston. A large production facility had just opened in Bushwick. And a second facility upstate was helping to produce larger batches.
“Everything was just upwards,” said Mohan Kumar, the co-founder and de facto CEO. “We were poised to make a really big push at the time.”
Kumar recalls going home on Friday, March 13 of last year and deciding to shut down all the stores by Sunday. He said the first few days were spent taking care of staff, making sure they could navigate the unemployment system.
“No one really knew what was going on,” said Mullins. “We just knew that it would be better if we were all away from each other for a while. It afforded us a little clarity of mind to think, ‘What does the business do now?’”
It was a moment of unanticipated introspection for a company that had expanded aggressively in under a decade. Oddfellows was born out of the friendship of Kumar and pastry chef Sam Mason. The two met at the (now closed) molecular gastronomy restaurant wd~50 where Mason rose to fame as a pastry chef.
Then in 2011 Kumar’s wife, Holiday, was pregnant with twins and experiencing unusual pregnancy cravings. When Kumar mentioned this to Mason, the chef quickly produced a small batch of pretzel ice cream. The ice cream not only satisfied Holiday’s cravings, but gave her a business idea.
“She was like, ‘This is so awesome. You should think about opening an ice cream shop,’” said Kumar. “And I was like, ‘You know what? That’s a good idea.’”
Kumar, who had been working in real estate finance, was ready for a change. He and Holiday teamed up with Mason to open a shop on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg in 2013. The shop was named Oddfellows after the unusual and surprising flavors served to patrons.
“We were the first shop to really take some risks,” said Kumar in an interview with AM New York, “with flavors like Cornbread, Chorizo Caramel Swirl, Miso Cherry, Saffron Passionfruit, the list goes on.”
Taking risks had paid off. But now the pandemic was shuttering stores. As the COVID shutdown dragged on into the summer, the company had to come up with a new way to get their ice cream out to customers stuck at home. So they launched nationwide shipping. It had been “an aspiration of ours for a really long time,” according to Mullins.
True to form, Oddfellows kicked off nationwide shipping with six oddball flavors. They teamed up with comedians Desus & Mero to sell pints of bodega-themed ice cream including “baconeggncheese” and “Host of Cupcakes.”
“Now that’s a huge part of our business,” said Mullins. “It’s a good opportunity for us to partner with people too.”
But it hasn’t been all good news. Leases and landlords had to be negotiated, leading to the permanent closure of both Manhattan scoop shops. In Bushwick, plans for a scoop shop near the production facility have been scrapped. At one point, the future of the facility itself seemed unclear. In a January email to neighbors, Kumar said the pandemic “led us to the decision to close our ice cream production facility.” However, when asked about this in March, Kumar denied the facility was closing.
Perhaps the secret to Oddfellows’ success is the background of its founders. Mason marries the creativity of a foodie with the rigorous discipline of a star chef. Mohan Kumar’s background in finance gives him a business acumen. And Holiday, who has stepped away from the business to focus on the twins, worked as a press freedom analyst. The business mindset has led to unexpected opportunities like opening a shop near Boston and a recent opening in Seoul, South Korea.
Back at Domino Park, Andy Mullins confesses that his favorite flavor is a “classic”: Olive Oil. He suggested pairing it with ranch dressing from Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s. “Don’t knock it till you try it,” said Mullins. Even after a pandemic, Oddfellows keeps surprising.