On the Friday before July Fourth weekend, Liza Tremblay, above, delivered a thousand pints of ice cream and 500 ice cream sandwiches to local farm stands, and another 30 large boxes of ice cream to half a dozen restaurants. Panicked texts and phone calls started coming in by early Sunday: Supplies were already running perilously low, demand was outpacing available freezer space.
“In a given year, we sell about 30,000 pints of ice cream,” explained Tremblay, 36, who co-owns Joe and Liza’s Ice Cream. “And, almost all of it happens in three months.”
Like so much on the South Fork, summertime is high season for ice cream sales and Joe and Liza’s is the only commercially sold ice cream made locally. There are shops, the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton comes to mind, that make and sell their own ice cream, but Joe and Liza’s is the only local brand competing with the likes of Breyers, Ben & Jerry’s, and Haagen Dazs.
Joe and Liza’s most popular flavor is vanilla, followed by cookie jar, chocolate, pistachio, coffee, and strawberry. Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton, the Mill House Inn in East Hampton, and Noah’s in Greenport have scooped up the local ice cream for their desserts.
Joe and Liza’s also sells ice cream sandwiches and 10 flavors of ice cream and sorbet at its corner kiosk at the Amagansett Farmers Market. Re-opened by the Amagansett Food Institute last summer, the market only sells food and beverages made in New York State. Confessing to a particular fondness for Joe and Liza’s blackcherry flavor, Kathleen Masters, the institute’s executive director, says: “It reminds me of the ice cream I had as a child.”
As the brand-name suggests, Liza Tremblay is one half of a growing food-business. Joe and Liza Tremblay’s 800-square-foot ice cream facility in Sag Harbor is just a stone’s throw from Bay Burger, which they also run together. They met in college, when her Smith College roommate introduced her to Joe, who was studying at Tulane University in New Orleans. The two immediately hit it off and were married six months after their college graduations. Shortly afterward, they paid a visit to her parents in Sag Harbor. The newlyweds lamented the lack of a good burger joint, and stored that thought away for a few years as they worked in the food business in New York.
In 2005, the perfect building for a burger joint came on the market. Sensing the time was right, the Tremblays pooled their resources, and on Memorial Day weekend of 2007 Bay Burger opened. Along with their businesses, their family has since grown to include Leo, 5, and Rose, 1.
Early on, a division of labor presented itself, with Joe grinding the meat and baking homemade buns, while Liza experimented making ice cream. Though she’s always cooked, ice cream was completely new so she did what any beginner would do: She enrolled in a three-day course offered by the guy whose claim to fame includes Cookies and Cream, Milky Way, and Snickers ice cream, all of which he made in 1978 at a restaurant he owned in Philadelphia. At his Ice Cream University in New Jersey, Malcolm Stogo preaches the virtues of quality.
“His main thing is to buy the best ingredients you can, because people can taste the difference,” Liza said. “He said ‘don’t worry about the cost, just always buy the best stuff.’ ”
As you’d imagine, dairy is key, and for the past five years, Liza has worked with a Poughkeepsie dairy to create a proprietary base, made of only pasteurized milk, cream, sugar, and eggs — and devoid of any preservatives, stabilizers, or gums found in most other store-bought ice creams. To make her cult-following vanilla, for instance, she adds only vanilla extract and crushed vanilla beans to the base.
For now, the main bottleneck to growing the business is distribution, which the duo now handle entirely on their own.
“If we want to grow much past where we are now, we’d need a large distributor,” Tremblay said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to make that jump.”
Outsourcing the packing is also an option. “But then it’s not made in Sag Harbor.” And “conceived in Sag Harbor but made in Connecticut” doesn’t hold quite the same appeal.
— Amanda M. Fairbanks