‘We’re In the Trenches Together’: Husband and Wife Expand Their Successful and Fast-Growing Harlem Ice Cream Company

No matter what time of the year, ice cream sells. In fact, about 6.4 billion pounds of ice cream and frozen yogurt were produced in the U.S. in 2019. And a New York City-based husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team is tapping into the $13.1 billion industry.

When Petrushka Bazin Larsen and Nick Larsen noticed Harlem lacked a dine-in ice cream parlor, they opened one up.

Opened in July 2017, Sugar Hill Creamery scoops up handmade, small-batch ice cream and non-dairy frozen desserts, offering seasonal and classic flavors year-round.

“So many people have asked us, ‘Why ice cream?’ The short answer is, we didn’t have a sit-down scoop shop in all of Harlem, which is a pretty big neighborhood,” Petrushka Bazin Larsen explains. “We have a few Baskin-Robbins stores, but no sit-down, get-to-know-someone-on-a-first-date places where you could eat ice cream and stay awhile.”

While having an ice cream parlor was probably not their first career choice, they realized it was an ideal one to go into together.

“Nick’s background is in hospitality and mine is in museums, art education, and community engagement. With this business, we brought our previous experiences together, found a storefront a block from our place, and created what we hope will be an ice cream parlor that will be here for many years to come,” says Petrushka.

The husband and wife are longtime Harlem residents. “We’ve lived in Harlem for over 15 years. Deciding to work for ourselves was a choice in the autonomy of our time and an opportunity to build a legacy for our kids. In making this decision, we also wanted to have a short commute to work, so Harlem is the logical location since it is our home,” says Petrushka.

Then on Halloween 2020, they opened the second store in Hamilton Heights, just blocks from Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood.

“We were in the midst of opening our second location when COVID hit. Not only were we managing this project, but we were also homeschooling our three kids. At the start of covid, we weren’t sure how low pedestrian traffic was going to impact our store on Lenox Avenue, so we launched a weekly ice cream subscription business where we delivered pints of ice cream to our local customers,” explains Petrushka, who with Nick would pack up their minivan with their three children and drive around the city in one- to four-hour intervals to make these weekly deliveries.

ice cream
Photo from Instagram @sugarhillicecream

Despite the pandemic, they opened a third location within the Time Out Market in DUMBO, Brooklyn. And they began shipping their pints nationwide on the Goldbelly platform.

“To say this has been a trying time is an understatement, but I believe that our ability to keep going amidst adversity has paid off, and for all of these blessings, we are grateful,” reflects Petrushka.

Being a married couple in business together can at times be trying — as well as glorious.

“There are exceptionally awesome days and other days that are trying. We do absolutely everything together, which can be romantic. It can also be challenging when the other partner isn’t doing things the way that you might,” shares Petrushka. “Since we are married and not just professional partners, sometimes we are unfiltered in our responses towards things in ways that we might not be with a colleague.”

Being a husband and wife team has also drawn them closer.

“We have certainly grown in our connection to each other, as we have seen each other in our most vulnerable moments. We’re in the trenches of life together in every aspect; it has brought us closer to each other. No one said it was easy, but it has been completely worth it. We celebrate 10 years of marriage this December, and we wouldn’t change our decision to work together for the world,” says Petrushka.

Running Sugar Hill Creamery has become a full-time position for both. Nick has worked full-time for the company since it opened. Petrushka started working full-time six months after they opened. Petrushka is also an adjunct lecturer to undergrads in the city in art education. She also runs a coaching practice called askPetrushka for women transitioning into motherhood and those looking to transition out of work that no longer serves them or the lifestyles they desire.

This ice cream parlor has no downtime.

“We have always been open year-round. In the fall and winter, we offer our ice cream hot chocolate, which many people say is the best hot chocolate they’ve tasted. We make it with vanilla ice cream and Guayaquil 64 percent chocolate. We top the whole cup with a spiral jetty of homemade, torched marshmallow fluff and chocolate shavings. This brings customers near and far,” shares Petrushka.

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