By Kimberly Maul
Ice cream is a staple of summer (and a staple of my life). A cool, creamy scoop of chocolate, or a fruity and sweet strawberry in a cone, or even classic vanilla can always hit the spot. Since 2007, Blue Marble has been a staple of a Brooklyn summer, bringing the highest quality artisanal ice cream made with local ingredients and three generations of history, to the borough. But due to some recent changes, the local favorite is going through a time of transition.
Jennie Dundas, an actress, and Alexis Miesen, who worked in the nonprofit sector, started the company in 2007 with help from their ice cream maker, Matt White, who is a family friend of Dundas.
As the original shop, on Atlantic Avenue, gained popularity, Blue Marble opened a second location six months later in Prospect Heights, in conjunction with New York Kids Explorers. In February 2009, they opened their third shop on Court Street in Cobble Hill, which also offers soft serve. Unfortunately, as has been covered recently, the flagship shop on Atlantic Avenue will be closing at the end of October.
While the landlord of the Atlantic Avenue space was not quite doubling the rent, as had been previously reported, he was raising it significantly, and had reneged on some things Blue Marble was counting on after a verbal agreement, said Jane Orgel, who runs the wholesale business for the company.
I spoke with Jane while snacking on my favorite, mint chocolate chip ice cream, which as always, was creamy, fresh, and had chunks of rich, dark chocolate. She was enjoying a newer flavor, coconut chocolate chip.
“It wouldn’t have been prudent business-wise for us to agree to pay the full rent,” she adds, noting that the team was sad to be leaving its original shop. “He made it really unappealing to stay here.”
But Blue Marble is looking to make some transitions during this time of forced streamlining and slower winter months, Orgel says, particularly expanding its wholesale business.
“It’s fun to expand our reach in that way because we get to work with people who are into many more aspects of food than we get to have our hands in,” Orgel says. Blue Marble currently works with Foragers Market, Stinky Brooklyn, and Marlow & Daughters, among others, as well as restaurants including Flatbush Farm, Seersucker, and Dutch Boy Burger.
The staff at Blue Marble, which expanded to about 35 this summer, will be cut back during the slower winter season, and with the loss of the Atlantic Avenue location. Additionally, Miesen and Dundas (a new mom), who both usually work behind the counter, are re-evaluating their roles.
“Winter is a slow time for us, retail-wise, so we’re really going to take this time to regroup and come back swinging in the spring,” Orgel says. Orgel has been with Blue Marble since early spring 2009, first working behind the counter, and then after getting “swept up in the whole Blue Marble sphere,” expanding her role behind the scenes.
The ice cream itself is from White’s recipes, passed down from his great-grandfather. When coming up with more modern flavors, like root beer or the aforementioned coconut chocolate chip, “that’s him working off a foundation of those basic tried and true recipes,” Orgel says.
“We’re committed to using fair trade and locally-sourced, sustainably-produced ingredients whenever we can,” she adds. The company recently decided to leave its larger dairy, Natural by Nature, to work with a small collective of local dairy farmers. After extensive taste-testing (Hey – call me next time!), the company now has regional five farmers it uses to buy dairy.
But Blue Marble originally started with the hope of its shops becoming staples in the community. It’s clearly achieved that goal here in Brooklyn, and even has a branch in Rwanda. Really.
Soon after starting the company, Dundas and Miesen launched Blue Marble Dreams, a nonprofit effort, which opened an ice cream shop in Rwanda, training women in accounting, bookkeeping, and ice cream making so they can self-sufficiently run the location.
“We’ve really built something based on wholesome ideas,” Orgel says, summing up the Blue Marble ethos. “We put a lot of thought into everything we do and want Blue Marble to become a community fixture.”
420 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY, 11217
186 Underhill Avenue
196 Court Street