The second-best ice cream in New York State can be found, albeit with some difficulty, in an alleyway off Partition Street in Saugerties. Newyorkupstate.com ranked the tiny shop, which opened in July, 2017, just behind the top winner, Bellevale Farms in Warwick.
The aptly-named Alleyway Ice Cream shop is located in the alley between Frank’s Village Jewelry and the Emporium at English Garden. There’s a sign on the neighboring building indicating the location, and also free-standing signs on the sidewalk.
The Newyorkupstate.com website uses Yelp ratings to fashion an algorithm that combines customer reviews, star ratings, time in business and several other factors.
The shop is based in a former cleaning closet. Owner Julian Hom makes all the ice cream by hand. Because of the time involved and the very small space (six-by-ten feet), only six flavors are available at any time. The three standards are Madagascar vanilla, Belgian chocolate and roasted strawberry.
Other flavors, available on a rotating basis, include lemon ricotta, sweet corn, sour-cream blueberry, shortbread mint, cookies and cream and others. Many other flavors listed in customers’ Yelp reviews. Hom even made a roasted-garlic-flavored ice cream for sale during the Saugerties Garlic Festival.
The idea for the stand came after Hom’s parents gave him a book of recipes for making ice cream. Making desserts for the family, he became fascinated with the variety of flavors that were possible.
Hom grew up in Woodstock and Saugerties. He attended Woodstock Day School, but dropped out in his senior year, later earning an equivalency diploma. After majoring in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he worked for four years as a professional photographer.
He found the work becoming routine. “I wanted to make people happy,” he said, “and with photography I wasn’t really happy; I didn’t feel I was making anyone happy. It seemed I was making pictures to put in a catalogue or display on a website. I still love taking photos, but now it’s much more fun.”
The new business is different. “With ice cream, I feel there is an immediate reaction,” he explained. “Right away you can see you are making people happy. Babies are here, and they’re grabbing for the ice cream or kids are here and, ‘This is the best ice cream I ever had.’ That’s so great.”
As well as Hom’s obvious enthusiasm and commitment, the ice cream is distinguished not only by its unusual flavors but also by the hand craftsmanship that goes into it. “Of all the ice cream I try, it seems a little bit too sweet. I think I make my ice cream about 30 percent less sweet than most other ice cream,” he said. “I think the sweetness can be a little distracting [from the flavor].”
Based on the reviews on Yelp, his customers agree. His average rating on the website is almost an even five out of five, putting him slightly ahead of the first-place finisher. The final rating, though, was partly based on the number of reviews. Hom’s total of 53 reviews was fewer than the larger and longer established Bellevale product.
Hom finds getting the ice cream ready and dealing with the complications of the business can be hectic at times. Wednesday, the day his deliveries come in, is Crunch Day.
Hom also mixes the ingredients at Bluestone Coffee Roasters, of which his father is a co-owner.
The ice cream is chilled in the refrigerator. With his milk delivery on Wednesday, Hom must move the mix to the freezer more quickly to make room in the refrigerator for the incoming product.
People who are lactose-intolerant are unable to enjoy conventional ice cream. Hom makes a non-lactose product, using cashew milk instead of dairy cream. Cocoa butter also replaces some of the milk fat, he said. With fats that have different melting points than cream, developing the vegan varieties has been a challenge, but Hom likes to have something for everyone.
One day Hom might like a larger shop, with indoor seating. For now, however, having a business that is closed during the winter gives him the freedom to travel. Last year he went to Egypt. He’s been to China. When he went to Italy with his girlfriend, they did a lot of gelato testing. “If I have a regular storefront, with the overhead it would be a lot harder for me to escape,” he said.
He’s really glad to be in Saugerties, “It’s small,” he said. “I’m getting to know all the storeowners, and people are more down-to-earth.” He lives in Woodstock.
While his income is less than what he was making in free-lance photography, the business is stable, and it’s growing as more people become familiar with the shop.
In the next few years he may have to open a store, with employees and overhead. But for now the small stand in the alleyway off Partition Street is enough.