For David Yoo, what started as a joke turned out to become the cornerstone of his career. After graduating from the Parsons School of Art and Design, the 40-year-old Long Island native initially worked in streetwear at 10 Deep before going into fashion advertising. However, it wasn’t too long before Yoo wanted to make a change toward something new. He sought something creative, but something he could also pursue on his own. Originally, his idea to pivot toward ice cream was a joke, one he told his boss as he gave him his two-week notice.
“I gave him my notice, I’m like, ‘I’m quitting to make ice cream,’ Yoo recalled, “and he’s like, ‘Are you serious?’” But there’s nothing funny about the success that Yoo has achieved with Davey’s Ice Cream, a quaint and colorful ice cream shop in the East Village, which celebrated 10 years of scoops and smiles on Oct. 6.
To celebrate the milestone, Davey’s offered a free scoop of ice cream to any customer who stopped into the shop on 9th Street and 2nd Avenue between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., as well as a bright yellow tote bag to the first 50 customers in line. By 5:30 p.m., the line outside Davey’s had amassed over 30 people and stretched halfway to 1st Avenue. When the clock struck six, Yoo observed shyly from the street as customers poured into his shop for a free scoop of handcrafted flavors.
Yoo built his dairy empire from the ground up, beginning by taking the Ice Cream Short Course offered by Penn State University, a one-week course designed to educate students about the inner workings of the ice cream industry. The Short Course at PSU is 100 years and boasts that it is America’s oldest running ice cream education course, With the insight he gathered, Yoo crafted a business plan and began making his own ice cream at home in his kitchen.
“I quickly realized ice cream was kind of like a blank canvas for creativity. Ice cream can literally be anything,” Yoo said. “Any idea you have, any flavor idea you have, any concept. You can translate that into ice cream in some really weird way.” Yoo made an effort to emphasize handcrafted ice cream with thoughtfully developed flavors as a key to his business.
He feels proud that everything from the ice cream base mix to his unique flavors are handcrafted entirely from scratch, a crucial element that distinguishes Davey’s from many other ice cream shops.
Yoo bought his own pasteurizer, which he considered to be a “major milestone” in the startup process and served as the “lifeblood” of the shop. With the pasteurizer in tow and an accumulation of his own savings, Yoo applied for a business loan from the bank to bring his vision of Davey’s to life.
He opened his first shop in September 2013 and by the following summer, he said he had begun to turn a profit.
He has not changed much from the original business plan of unique home made flavors. Yoo said that the process of creating his own mix takes a week to complete, but that aspect is what defines his shop. Initially, while he now knew how the creative part of making ice cream, he then had to learn how to be a businessman. “Those first weeks leading up to the grand opening, we were cracking eggs literally one by one, because I didn’t know you could just buy egg yolks,” Yoo said. “So we’re cracking hundreds and hundreds of eggs for the egg yolks and it was like we were just doing everything on super hard mode.” HIs first shop opened on 1st Avenue in 2013, where he manufactured the ice cream and served it to customers all from the same location. He expanded to two other locations over the years, with shops in Greenpoint as well as the Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station.
Nowadays, his ice cream is created at single a location in Greenpoint–which operates as a certified dairy plant–and is transported to the other shops. After nine years with their flagship location on 1st Avenue, Yoo had to relocate the shop to its current spot on 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
He said he was bummed about not being able to celebrate 10 years at the same store, with all of its memories of birthday parties, engagements and other special occasions celebrated at the original shop, but he is excited for the opportunity to continue making more at his new location.“ The shop is a little too clean for my liking, but that’s how it always starts,” Yoo said. And Yoo’s hard work has not gone unnoticed.
Carlina Rivera, Manhattan’s 2nd District City Council Member, attended the celebration to personally congratulate Yoo with an award recognizing him for his service to the community. The award commemorates Yoo as an outstanding citizen of New York City, attributing his foundation and management of a cherished small business in the East Village.
“They really struggled, they made it through COVID, and they continue to bring smiles to people’s faces and be a great business,” Rivera said while appropriately eating a scoop of Davey’s Birthday Cake ice cream. “The employees are happy, David is an incredible person and we just wanted to be here to celebrate 10 years, and for them to be here as long as they want.” Some patrons who had even been at the launch of Davey’s a decade ago stopped by to personally congratulate Yoo on his accomplishment.
Iris O’Connor, a student at NYU, stumbled upon the shop for the first time after a study session with friends. “We saw all of the balloons and the whole gathering of people outside. And also, the outside of it looks super cute, it’s very appealing,” O’Connor said. “So we’re like, ‘Oh, let’s getsome ice cream for free.’ I mean, who doesn’t like free [stuff]?”
Arguably, the most important facet of Davey’s success stems from their commitment to quality customer service. Yoo noted that the foundation of his vision for Davey’s hinges on a positive customer experience, and he prioritizes selecting staff members who are able to provide a fun and enjoyable experience for customers.
Nowadays, Davey’s Ice Cream employs around 30 people during the summertime, between managers, kitchen staff and front of house. Yoo said he hopes to expand Davey’s in the future, but not too much. He said he enjoys being able to visit each one on a daily basis and interact with people on a personal level. “I like to keep things tight and consolidate things,” he said. “I like to run a tight ship, where I like to know everyone at the shop.”
“Ice cream is an experience. It’s not really just all about ice cream,” Yoo said. “It’s about going into a shop, smelling the shop, interacting with fun, happy staff, getting your scoop and sitting down with your friends and family and chilling eating ice cream. I think that’s the experience everyone wants.”
“Ice cream is an experience. It’s not really just all about ice cream.” David Yoo, founder of Davey’s Ice Cream Shop in the East Village