The espresso machine wasn’t the only thing steaming this week at Van Leeuwen, the artisanal ice cream company based in Greenpoint. The flash point – it’s new raw denim aprons. One barista is slightly irritated. The aprons were expertly crafted in Williamsburg by Loren, who specializes in small-batch handmade jeans. When complimented on the stunning aprons, an employee, grappling with a crisis of individuality, exclaimed, “One of the reasons I like to work here is that I don’t have to wear a uniform.” He did not want to conform to a corporate hipster look. However, the barista acknowledged his gripe was minor compared to the perceived cleaning issues. The employee stated that Van Leeuwen didn’t consult it’s managers before purchasing the aprons. Had they, the barista would have told them wearing an apron that you cannot wash after making milkshakes all day is not practical. Some staff are concerned because they are responsible for NOT cleaning the aprons. “Fabreze or Freeze” is a common mantra for cleaning such denim. However, it turns out staff were very involved in the decision to go raw. Laura O’Neill, one of the founders of Van Leeuwen was disappointed to hear that efforts to balance what’s good for Van Leeuwen and what keeps their team happy might be falling short. She states, in fact, “…our management team were a big part of the design and development of these custom aprons. It’s because we care about our team, that we opted for well-designed custom aprons made from a nice breathable fabric. You won’t see that at Starbucks…” She also added, “We are a small grass roots company and we care very much about our product and team members…”
Additionally, Loren has crafted aprons for a number of restaurants, among them, Ace Hotel L.A., 5 Leaves, Nights and Weekends, both in Greenpoint, and more. He assures staff at Van Leeuwen that while spot cleaning is recommended, one can wash in cold water and hang dry when needed. Also stating, “This particular apron is made out of a Japanese left-hand twill. The beauty about these aprons is they get better over time, just like a pair of jeans.” Van Leeuwen staff speculates that multiple hundreds were spent per apron, but Loren actually sells the aprons at a surprisingly reasonable price! Custom full bib aprons start at $105, with wholesale pricing available on more than ten units. Loren’s partner Michael Cohen works closely with customers to personalize things like pocket details and special fabrics, all the while making sure to keep the price reasonable, adding, “We did an ice cream cone embroidery on those aprons to match their brand logo. And we’re, of course, very excited for an excuse to eat more vegan ice cream this summer.”
For now staff at Van Leeuwen are not planning to strike, content to dab the ice cream off their aprons. They also cite an enjoyment of their paychecks. Hopefully, communicating Loren’s precise cleaning instructions will convince staff that their aprons won’t sour and they can continue to froth milk with abandon. One would think small-batch ice cream and small-batch denim would prove an ideal partnership for the discerning barista, but it just goes to prove, you can’t please all the baristas, all the time.
Van Leeuwen will be launching their new book, Artisan Ice Cream by Laura O’Neill, Ben Van Leeuwen, and Pete Van Leeuwen with Olga Massov Wednesday, June 24 at The Powerhouse Arena (Dumbo)