By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Michael “Mikey” Cole opened his ice cream shop on Avenue A at the end of May, he did so with little fanfare, in the hopes that everyone’s favorite summertime treat would be enough to lure hoards of customers in.
Since then, Cole has gained a loyal customer-base, but that’s on top of all the people who already knew him. He’s lived in Stuyvesant Town for all his 35 years and Pete Rosado, the operations manager for Mikey Likes It, presented a challenge: walk more than two blocks down Avenue A without bumping into someone who would greet Mike with a big hello.
“It’s impossible,” Rosado insisted.
Before opening the shop just outside Stuy Town, Cole started in the ice cream business about two years ago after trying out an old family recipe for vanilla ice cream.
“(My aunt) was a cook and cooks always save their recipe books,” he said. “We were going through her things after she passed two years ago and one of the recipes fell on the floor. It was a page for a vanilla ice cream recipe. Me being curious, I went to Associated, bought ingredients and just made it to her specs. That’s what became my base for all of the ice cream.”
Originally, he sold the ice cream out of a cart in the neighborhood, in essence building up a customer-base before the business was even fully formed.
In its current incarnation as the shop on Avenue A, there are a handful of different flavors that will be rotating from month to month, but none of them with recognizable ice cream names.
“We’re like the Ben & Jerry’s for the urban community,” Cole said. “We wanted to create signature flavors. I make my own vanilla and even that has three different kinds of vanilla. Everything we do is a little far fetched and out there.”
Other current flavors include Cool Runnings, a coconut ice cream with coconut and dark chocolate shavings and toasted almonds, as well as Mint Condition, which is mint ice cream with chocolate fudge brownies. Even their vanilla isn’t just vanilla; it goes by “Ice Ice Baby.”
All the flavors have pop culture-inspired names, most of which are references to the 1980’s, which Rosado attributed to that being that era he and Cole grew up in. Aside from the nostalgia, Rosado added that the unique flavor names are also meant to give the shop a comfortable and carefree atmosphere.
“Sometimes when people order it, we’ll get a giggle out of them,” he said. “We’re bridging the gap between pop culture and the people who thought they might be out of touch.”
Although the shop hasn’t been open during the colder months, Cole isn’t worried about how the business will do during the winter. Before they even opened the brick-and-mortar location, Mikey Likes it was operating as an event-based business that brought ice cream to its customers, so not having as many walk-ins isn’t a concern for Cole. Especially when there are customers like Beyonce and Jay Z sending in orders.
“I created a flavor based around D’ussè, Jay Z’s cognac of choice, called it D’ussè de leche and sent it over to him,” Cole said. “He loved it. They have it in W Hotels in the city now and Beyonce orders from us. And we had plugs like that before we even had the shop open.”
He added that they’re also planning to start delivery service in the fall so residents can get their cold, tasty treats without having to go out in the cold themselves.
Giving back to the community through youth programs is also an important part of the business model, Cole said.
The reason, he admitted, is that he spent some time in prison when he was younger and recognized that he had made mistakes, but added that what he got out of it was certain life lessons. Those are lessons he wants to pass along to kids who might be going down a bad path: just be yourself.
“I thought I was going to the NBA but I’m 5’5”; it’s not happening,” he said. “We want to show kids that they don’t have to be the stereotype.”
Mikey Likes It is also trying to provide more opportunities for other people who have been formerly incarcerated that might have difficulties finding a good job.
“We want to give them an opportunity when other people may have shunned them,” Rosado said. “We want people to know that they can come here and have a past that today doesn’t define them. Let’s be real, eight out of ten of us may have smoked pot. But you can’t taste six months of prison in a vanilla ice cream cone.”
Cole said the business supports youth programming and tutoring as well as supporting local artists.
Even in his miniscule shop on Avenue A, local artists are represented through some of the art that is displayed. Along the left hand wall there are hanging three clocks made by Lower East Side artist Crosby “ClockWork Cros.”
Cole is planning to continue growing the collection of clocks, adding one each month along with a description of the month’s featured ice cream flavor. The clocks are all cut out pictures of faces and so far, the shop features one of George Michael, Prince and the Notorious B.I.G., whose clock went up first in May because the rapper’s birthday happened to be around the same time that the shop opened.
Mikey Likes It is making use of all the space that the business has and another contribution from a local artist is the metal grate outside the shop, which will be changing from month to month and is put up by Bronx painter Andre Trenier. The current mural features George Michael, the 80’s pop star who inspired July’s featured flavor, “Freedom,” vanilla ice cream with red velvet cake chunks and fresh blueberries.