It’s a sweet time to be an entrepreneur for Petrushka Bazin Larsen and her husband, Nick Larsen. For this week’s edition of City Hustle, I had the pleasure of interviewing Petrushka, the co-owner of Harlem’s sizzling new ice cream parlour, Sugar Hill Creamery. Indeed, Family and community are central to this cozy ice cream shop’s success and festive atmosphere. Sugar Hill has already gained a sugar-fanatic following, which is not surprising due to the powerfulness of their flavors, local ingredients and Petrushka and Nick’s passion for serving sensational ice cream to the Harlem community.
In this hustle & grind interview series, we’ll explore how this family of entrepreneurs has thrived to where they are today, the Harlem history behind their ice cream, and a glimpse into their sugar-fueled lives!
How did Nick’s culinary background and your work within Harlem come together to influence the creation of Sugar Hill?
We’ve lived in Harlem for almost 15 years. In all of that time, we’ve only had three frozen yogurt shops, which are all now closed, and a chain of Baskin Robbins stores. In 1983, Thomforde’s–a soda fountain that sits fondly in the memories of many Harlemites who lived in the neighborhood during that time–closed. There was also a Ben Jerry’s shop on 125th around the late 1980s/early 1990s. Since then there has not been a warm, sit-down ice cream shop uptown. When the frozen yogurt shops were open, we patronized them. Nick has wanted to own his own brick and mortar food business having spent many years working in New York restaurants. He went to the Institute of Culinary Education and has held senior front of house titles at Bouley, Blue Hill New York, and Telepan, all Michelin-starred restaurants, so he had the training to make it happen. We are also very embedded in our community. I have spent much of my professional career working for Harlem-based non-profits. I initially moved to Harlem to work at Studio Museum in Harlem and now serve as the executive director of Reading Team, a Harlem-based organization that engages Pre-K through 5th graders in rigorous in-school and after school rigorous literacy-focused activity. Our children also go to school and daycare here and we go to church here.
The shop gives us an opportunity to see more of our neighbors and meet new ones along the way. It is an extension of our home.
What role does the community of Harlem have in your choice of location for Sugar Hill Creamery, and how does the changing neighborhood impact your business?
We first lived in Sugar Hill on 148th & St. Nicholas Ave before we moved to our current apartment, which is located in Mount Morris Park. Sugar Hill is where our life began as a couple so naming our first business after the place where we fell in love felt right. Of course, we knew that naming a business after a place where it was not located would raise questions among people who do not know us. Harlem, like many neighborhoods in New York, is gentrifying. We expected that people would be critical of the name. Just a few months ago, there were protests about a movement to rename the area bound between 110th Street to 125th Street SoHa. This kind of renaming erases culture. Sugar Hill Creamery is an ode to the rich history of Sugar Hill. There were so many amazing Black artists and political leaders who lived there. With this business we wanted to honor that history. We also have hopes of opening other locations further north of Mount Morris Park. We chose the location for our current shop because of its affordability and proximity to our home. As first time business owners with kids, being able to keep the lights and keep an eye on both your business and your kids are critical.
From the looks of your bios, you have a pretty busy life! How do you stay on top of your hustle, juggling kids, ice cream, your non-profit, and other endeavors?
It helps that we both work in the same neighborhood where we live, and where our kids go to school and daycare. Centralizing everything was intentional on our part since we’ve both spent most of our time as parents working much further away from our home. It’s a privilege that we don’t buy monthly metrocards anymore and have the opportunity to come home for lunch from time to time. That said, juggling all of our responsibilities isn’t easy. Long hours (10+hour days) are the norm for both of us, so everything somehow gets done, but we are often pretty exhausted.
What advice do you have for hopeful entrepreneurs who dream of owning a shop like yours one day?
Test your market with the leanest product and build your “tribe” (or your fan base) before you significantly invest in anything. Subscribe to the following podcasts for inspiration – Seth’s Godin’s Startup School; How to Start a Startup; How I Built This. Read the Startup.co daily newsletter. And, listen to Mad Fientist’s episode “PopUp Business School – The Right Way to Start a Business.”
Photo: The Larsens (l-r, Nick, Ila, Zadie, and Petrushka) in front of the Sugar Hill Creamery construction site.
What are your favorites of the ice cream flavors you serve?
I LOVE our dairy-free options even though I love dairy-based flavors. Soursop (seasonal) and chocolate are my favorite among the dairy-free options and cinnamon (seasonal), which was inspired by my sister who loves that flavor but can rarely find it, is my new dairy-
based favorite. Blueberry cheesecake, corn jalapeno (seasonal), andpeanut butter and strawberry have also been very popular. I can’t wait for all of our fall flavors to roll out. Pumpkin and spices are on the horizon.
Most importantly, what are your kids’ favorite flavors?
Ila’s favorite flavors are peach raspberry sorbet and soursop. Zadie hasn’t had ice cream yet, but when she starts eating it, I’m pretty sure she’ll like them all!
For more on Sugar Hill Creamery, visit them in person:
184 Lenox Avenue
Harlem, NY 10026