Ample Hills
Ample Hills is known for its unique flavour menu @amplehills via Instagram

Building an ice cream empire from scratch is a dream many aspire to, but the journey is fraught with challenges, as Ample Hills Creamery co-founders Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith discovered firsthand.

Their venture began modestly in 2011, with the opening of their first Ample Hills store in Brooklyn, New York, following the success of an ice cream pushcart. By 2020, Ample Hills boasted 13 scoop shops, a thriving online store shipping nationwide, and an estimated net worth of $40 million. Yet, despite these apparent successes, the company faced a sudden downfall.

In March 2020, a series of unfortunate decisions led to Ample Hills declaring bankruptcy, leaving Smith and Cuscuna financially devastated. Forced to file for personal bankruptcy six months later, the couple found themselves at rock bottom.

However, amidst the turmoil, a glimmer of hope emerged when Schmitt Industries, a machine parts manufacturer venturing into food, acquired Ample Hills for $1 million. Despite the sale providing some relief from debts, the couple's losses were profound.

Undeterred by adversity, Smith and Cuscuna embarked on a journey of redemption, launching The Social, a new ice cream shop in Brooklyn, just a year later. In a remarkable turn of events, they reclaimed the Ample Hills brand in June, purchasing it for a mere $150,000 with new partners.

Reflecting on their rollercoaster ride from success to failure and back, Cuscuna acknowledged the inherent risks in the ice cream business. With a background in education, she had initially been wary of venturing into entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Smith, juggling roles as a producer, director, and scriptwriter, found solace in the joy of making ice cream and sharing it with others.

Their journey began humbly, with a pushcart debut featuring premium flavours tailored to evoke childhood nostalgia. Encouraged by the overwhelming response, they invested their savings into a brick-and-mortar store the following year, offering innovative creations filled with crisps, cereal, and cookies. The response was overwhelming, with lines stretching down the street all summer and accolades pouring in from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.

Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, co-founders of Ample Hills Creamery
Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, co-founders of Ample Hills Creamery

Buoyed by their initial success, the pair embarked on an ambitious expansion, establishing a sprawling factory dubbed the "Taj Mahal" of ice cream facilities. Securing $19 million in venture capital funding, they expanded their reach to 13 stores nationwide, achieving $10 million in annual sales. However, their rapid growth masked underlying financial woes, exacerbated by overspending on elaborate packaging and equipment.

As financial troubles mounted, Smith and Cuscuna grappled with investor rejections and dwindling resources. Despite their best efforts, they could not secure the necessary funding to sustain operations, resulting in a heartbreaking bankruptcy declaration. The experience left them shattered but determined to rise again.

Learning from their past mistakes, the co-founders adopted a more cautious approach in their second innings. With a select group of investors onboard, they prioritized profitability and industry expertise, appointing seasoned professionals to critical positions. Cuscuna, in particular, embraced the opportunity to learn from her missteps, undergoing business coaching and forging valuable connections.

Today, as they navigate the resurgence of their brand, Smith and Cuscuna remain resilient, owning a modest stake in their venture and charting a course towards sustainable growth. Their journey serves as a testament to the unpredictable nature of entrepreneurship, where resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from failure are indispensable qualities on the road to success.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Smith and Cuscuna revealed additional insights into their journey. They admitted to initially underestimating the complexities of scaling their business, leading to financial challenges.

Smith highlighted the importance of finding the right investors, emphasizing the need for partners who share their vision and values. Cuscuna echoed his sentiments, underscoring the critical role of mentorship and learning from experienced entrepreneurs.

Their new venture, The Social, represents a fresh start for the couple, who are determined to apply the lessons learned from their past mistakes. With a renewed focus on financial discipline and strategic decision-making, they are optimistic about their brand's future.

As they continue to rebuild Ample Hills Creamery, Smith and Cuscuna embrace the journey with resilience and determination, driven by their passion for creating delicious ice cream and sharing it with the world.