The Fight to Control Big Gay Ice Cream in New York City

It was all rainbows and unicorns for some time. However like many enjoyable concepts, Large Homosexual Ice Cream has wound up in debt and in courtroom.

After a rollicking rise that leveraged queer identification as a model technique, opened seven retailers within the Northeast and landed its merchandise in supermarkets nationwide, the New York Metropolis-based soft-serve chain is all the way down to only one location. On Friday, a founder and companion, Doug Quint, filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court docket accusing one other companion, Jon Chapski, of mismanaging the corporate and fraudulently accumulating authorities loans in the course of the pandemic.

On Tuesday afternoon, via a spokesperson, Mr. Chapski mentioned solely that he was reviewing the lawsuit along with his lawyer and would reply “when appropriate.”

In 2009, when the Large Homosexual Ice Cream Truck first rolled into the annual Brooklyn Satisfaction parade, it caught a wave of popular culture that included hits like “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Girl Gaga’s “Born This Way” and “Orange Is the New Black,” and marked a nationwide shift that culminated within the legalization of marriage for same-sex {couples} throughout the nation in 2015.

The corporate’s first retailers exploded in Greenwich Village in a burst of rainbow sprinkles. Locals and vacationers alike thrilled to the cheeky branding (Barbie dolls, glitter, “Golden Girls” references) and made pilgrimages for Bea Arthur swirls and Monday Sundaes.

Mr. Quint and Bryan Petroff, the avuncular (and homosexual) founders, went on to attract a mainstream following that helped make “don’t ask, don’t tell” a factor of the previous (in meals advertising, at the least). In 2017, Nestlé started distributing the corporate’s hard-pack ice cream in supermarkets nationwide; Folks journal coated the introduction of three new flavors in 2019.

“I thought Big Gay was my life’s work, the thing I was meant to do,” mentioned Mr. Quint, who gave up his decades-long profession as a classical musician in 2011, when the enterprise had two worthwhile shops and he had secured a six-figure deal to jot down the cookbook “Big Gay Ice Cream: Saucy Stories and Frozen Treats.”

Throughout the pandemic, although, the great vibes evaporated. Right now, after a number of missteps, unpaid money owed and evictions, the corporate’s future is murky. Mr. Quint is working in a Walgreens pharmacy in Pittsfield, Maine, the place he grew up. Mr. Petroff works in human assets for a New York restaurant chain.

Each males say they hope to tug the corporate again from the brink and proceed with out Mr. Chapski, whom they employed as a monetary adviser in 2011 and made a companion in 2016. The founders continued to develop new merchandise and advertising efforts, however Mr. Chapski successfully ran the enterprise.

Mr. Quint is in search of at the least $4 million, claiming damages arising from breach of contract, fiduciary irresponsibility and “willful misconduct” by Mr. Chapski. (Mr. Petroff, who like Mr. Quint nonetheless retains a 35 % possession stake, has declined to be a celebration to the go well with, citing the expense of authorized illustration, however mentioned Mr. Quint had his “full support.”)

In his lawsuit, Mr. Quint accuses Mr. Chapski of failing to pay landlords, distributors and the I.R.S.; concealing authorized proceedings and enterprise strikes from him and Mr. Petroff; and accumulating authorities loans in the course of the pandemic whereas the shops remained closed and staff went unpaid. Public information present that the 4 New York Metropolis shops — every of which is a separate limited-liability company — acquired loans totaling greater than $500,000.

Mr. Quint mentioned in an interview that Mr. Chapski has maintained his way of life whilst the corporate has descended into debt. Mr. Chapski and his spouse, Agnes, a former writer of In Type and Attract magazines, personal a 2,000-square-foot loft in TriBeCa and a seashore home in Montauk, N.Y. (The seashore property went into foreclosures on Aug. 14, in line with paperwork filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court docket.)

The one remaining ice cream retailer, on the Higher West Aspect of Manhattan, is operated by Jeremy Wladis, a longtime neighborhood restaurateur. On Friday, Mr. Wladis mentioned he had been granted permission to make use of the Large Homosexual model and recipes by Mr. Chapski, who repeatedly assured him that the founders have been not concerned.

Mr. Wladis advised The Occasions that he felt uneasy in regards to the association and tried many occasions to contact them instantly, however by no means obtained a reply. Mr. Quint and Mr. Petroff say that was as a result of Mr. Chapski had secretly blocked their entry to firm electronic mail and social-media feeds.

The corporate started as a summer-job lark when Mr. Quint and Mr. Petroff outfitted an previous van, created a menu of bedazzled soft-serve treats and sailed it to Prospect Park because the Large Homosexual Ice Cream Truck.

Zac Younger, now a Meals Community star after which the pastry chef at Butter in NoLIta, mentioned he felt equal components shock, worry and satisfaction when the truck rolled out: “I thought, you can’t do that, you can’t say that!”

Restaurant kitchens have been rife with homophobic abuse, he mentioned, and even the standard “pink ghetto” of pastry operations was often run by straight white males (although ladies and homosexual males typically carried out the pastry chef’s imaginative and prescient).

The corporate’s speedy rise “proved to me that you could be queer and open in the food space, and still be safe and loved,” Mr. Younger mentioned.

Not everybody was a fan. Some L.G.B.T.Q. individuals balked on the upbeat advertising of a group nonetheless enduring hate. Invoice Yosses, the pastry chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, mentioned, “It trivializes the real struggles that gay people have endured.”

Christina Tosi, the pastry chef and founding father of the Milk Bar dessert retailers, had simply began working on the New York restaurant Momofuku when Large Homosexual first rolled out. “They had a commitment to flavor and creativity and humor that carved out space for us all,” she mentioned.

She went on to construct an empire on revolutionary tastes like cereal milk-flavored soft-serve. “People’s willingness to cannonball and take a chance comes from them,” she mentioned.

The Large Homosexual Ice Cream shops within the East Village and West Village flourished. The truck toured the South, drawing crowds in Atlanta and Charleston, S.C. A Philadelphia store adopted, together with native high-profile New York places just like the South Road Seaport and Madison Sq. Backyard.

Because the enterprise expanded, the 2 founders relied on Mr. Chapski’s consulting firm, Edible Belongings, for bookkeeping and monetary administration.

Within the 2016 partnership settlement, Mr. Quint and Mr. Petroff every retained a 35 % share within the firm, with the remaining 30 % held by Edible Belongings. That very same yr, they signed an modification that gave Mr. Chapski “final authority and unilateral decision-making power over all financial matters,” whereas granting the identical energy to Mr. Quint and Mr. Petroff for the “creative direction” of the corporate.

“We were so naïve,” Mr. Quint mentioned ruefully, acknowledging that he and Mr. Petroff willingly entrusted Mr. Chapski with each their company funds and private livelihoods.

However as soon as Mr. Chapski was made a companion in Large Homosexual, in line with the founders and three former staff, he pushed for progress that the corporate’s earnings and infrastructure couldn’t maintain.

“He was always talking about being the next Starbucks,” mentioned Gary Hernandez, a longtime supervisor who resigned in 2019.

Large Homosexual’s trajectory just isn’t uncommon within the meals world. After a speedy rise in recognition and collaborations with Disney and Marvel, the Brooklyn ice cream darling Ample Hills was purchased by a enterprise capital agency and compelled into chapter 11.

Mr. Hernandez mentioned that Mr. Quint and Mr. Petroff weren’t concerned in Large Homosexual’s day-to-day operations or monetary issues, and that after the corporate started increasing, chaos, battle and offended calls from distributors and landlords grew to become frequent. “That’s when stuff started going haywire,” he mentioned.

Even so, by 2017, the model was sturdy sufficient to earn a coveted place in grocery store freezers, with pints bought nationally at shops like Safeway, Wawa and CVS.

Mr. Quint was strolling his canine when his sister first despatched {a photograph} of the pints on the market in his rural hometown. He packed the automotive and drove straight to Maine. “I had to see it with my own eyes,” he mentioned. Then, he mentioned, he went to the dumpster out again and cried for the depressing homosexual teenager who had fled to New York to review music in 1989.

“I ran from this place when I was 17,” he mentioned. “I could never have imagined ending up back here.”

However in 2020, with the shops closed indefinitely below lockdown, Mr. Quint says he was pressured to maneuver out of New York, taking a minimum-wage job at a CVS. In 2021, the flagship retailer within the East Village closed; quickly after, the corporate was evicted from its retailers within the West Village and Philadelphia. (For the West Village retailer alone, the again hire owed was practically $400,000, in line with courtroom paperwork.)

With out his data, he mentioned, federal mortgage cash was flowing in whereas judgments and summonses have been piling up on the doorstep of his unoccupied house. “What we didn’t realize is that creative control is meaningless, if the money is all up to someone else.”

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