Ice Cream Shops That Are About To Be Everywhere

Summer is peak ice cream season, but if you ask us, a trip to the ice cream shop sounds like a good idea any time of the year. Some of America's most celebrated ice cream shops, like Baskin Robbins and Carvel, have been in business for over 75 years and amassed hundreds of locations (or in Baskin Robbins' case, 7,800) all over the world. What do these two mastodons of the ice cream industry have in common? They started with one shop. Technically, Carvel's was an ice cream truck, but you get the idea.

Ice cream will probably always be popular, and as technology advances and food trends shift, the ice cream industry is more exciting and innovative than ever. Within the last few years, many ice cream shops have grown from local favorites to successful chains. Vegan ice cream, ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, and even gelato were once considered novelties, but now have a more mainstream appeal. Ice cream shops that base their business on these once-confusing concepts have gained a steady customer base that's allowed them to expand beyond their original locations. At the same time, other ice cream shops are earning success by putting a renewed focus on natural ingredients and unique, delicious flavors. To give you a better idea of what ice cream looks like today, we're bringing you a hot list of cool ice cream shops that are about to be everywhere.

New City Microcreamery mixes old-world technique with new-school food science

Words like "gourmet" and "artisanal" are used to describe contemporary ice cream shops where small batches and locally sourced ingredients are a top priority. New City Microcreamery is an example of the new generation's approach to the art of ice cream. After opening up shop in 2015 in Hudson, Massachusetts, it took no time at all for New City Microcreamery to acquire a following of customers who couldn't get enough of its exceptionally smooth and rich ice cream recipe. It turns out that New City Microcreamery's owners have their recipe down to a science.

Inspired by the aged steeping methods used in traditional gelato making, New City Microcreamery's ice cream base uses fresh cream from Mapleline Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts which is steeped for a full 24 hours. The secret to that next-level smoothness is mixing the ice cream base with liquid nitrogen kept at a blistering -300 degrees to create a flash-freeze effect. The shop in Hudson was the first, but now there are locations in Cambridge and Sudbury, Massachusetts. With the addition of a new factory to make small batches of ice cream sold in local Whole Foods stores, New City Creamery is on the verge of a mini ice cream empire. A must try flavor? Chocolate Salted Cookies & Cream.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is a business on the rise

The folks at New City Microcreamery aren't alone in their belief that made-from-scratch ice cream is the best in the business. Jeni Britton, the creative mind behind Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, has been perfecting her ice cream recipe for over two decades, and her efforts are paying off. It started in Columbus, Ohio in 2002 when Britton, an art student turned food experimentalist, opened her flagship store in North Market, where she shared innovative ice cream flavors like Wildberry Lavender, Honey Milk Chocolate, and Brambleberry Crisp with the public market's crowds. Britton's second location opened three years later, and would eventually expand to over 65 nationwide locations and earn her a James Beard Award.

What sets Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams apart is the ongoing commitment to using the best, chemical-free ingredients available from family businesses and fair trade institutions. Jeni's ice cream has the full-bodied texture and decadence of real buttercream perfectly blended with fruit, chocolate, nuts, cookies, or more unexpected components like goat cheese and cream cheese. You can also find Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams inside the freezers of grocers all over the country including CVS, ShopRite, and Whole Foods. Britton also makes a point to keep up with pop culture. The brand has partnered with Apple TV+ to create an original flavor inspired by "Ted Lasso" called "Biscuits With The Boss", featuring homemade shortbread cookie crumbles and a hint of sea salt.

Dear Bella is Southern California's hot spot for vegan ice cream

Dairy-free options at a modern ice cream shop are common these days, but a fully vegan ice cream shop is not something you see in just any city ... yet. Los Angeles-based Dear Bella is a good example of how much the demand for plant-based ice cream is growing. In 2017, friends Alice Cherng and Belinda Wei opened Dear Bella with the mission of sharing their vegan lifestyle and love of ice cream. The flagship Hollywood location quickly caught on, causing Cherng and Wei to realize that a single shop wasn't enough to sustain the influx of customers. Dear Bella's top-quality coconut milk and oat milk ice cream is thoughtfully flavored with premium, housemade ingredients, and preservative-free whole foods. A second location opened in Costa Mesa in late 2022.

Dear Bella's rotation of seasonal ice cream flavors ranges from classic: Peanut Butter Cup, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Coffee Chip (Cheng's personal recommendation), to the unexpected: Black Sesame, Lychee Raspberry Daiquiri, and Horchata. Asian-inspired flavors are in regular stock at Dear Bella to honor the owners' Taiwanese heritage (Wei's favorite is the Taiwanese Pineapple Cake). The shop also offers premium ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cakes, floats, and limited-edition desserts. Dear Bella has its eyes set on national online ordering, but with both California shops going strong, it wouldn't be surprising to see another location pop up soon.

Botolino brings the elegance of gelato to Dallas

Artisanal gelato is cooling things down in the Lone Star State with help from Botolino, an authentic shop that opened in Dallas in 2017. Botolino's gelato may be American-made, but this place is as authentic as it gets. Owner Carlo Gattini moved from Tuscany, Italy to Texas as a teenager. His father opened Dallas' MoMo Italian Kitchen, which is still open today. Gattini perfectly understands the importance of simplicity, tradition, and well-chosen and pure ingredients, which includes fruit from local Texan farmers. A second Botolino location is in the Preston Royal outdoor mall in Dallas, and a third is slated to open in Dallas' trendy Bishop Arts District in October 2023.

If you're unsure of what makes gelato different from traditionally churned ice cream, you're not alone. Gelato uses more milk than cream and is churned slowly, which creates a denser texture than the fluffy feel ice cream tends to have. For the record, though, the word "gelato" is Italian for "ice cream". Gattini insists on only using high-performance gelato machines made in Italy, and although the flavors change daily, they always exude luxury. Delicate flavors like Mascarpone & Figs and Persian Flower beautifully compliment more minimal offerings like NY Cheesecake and Milk Chocolate. For the non-dairy eaters out there, Botolino also offers a lovely selection of sorbettos, and a Peanut & Jelly Sandwich flavor made with cashew milk.

Salt & Straw serves ice cream with an adventurous spirit

Ever since Salt & Straw came on Portland, Oregon's food scene in 2011, it's been a frozen force to be reckoned with. Salt & Straw uses its platform as an ice cream shop to encourage community interaction, a dedication to craft, as well as an environmental standpoint. On June 9, 2023, Salt & Straw opened a pop-up shop on East 13th Street in Manhattan for a single day. It was held at Blue Stripes Cacao Shop, and highlighted flavors made from cacao pulp to show that ice cream can be upcycled and still be amazing. Celeb A-lister Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has long backed Salt & Straw, founded by the cousin team of Kim and Tyler Malek, and has partnered with them to create exclusive holiday ice cream flavors. The Maleks began their ice cream company on a whim, and have since expanded all over California and the Seattle area. Salt & Straw also has ice cream shops in Las Vegas, Miami, and even Disney World.

With a refreshingly weird approach to crafting unique ice cream flavors, Salt & Straw has popularized artisan ice cream flavors like Chocolate Potato Salad, Cinnamon & Honey Fried Chicken Baked Brie & Fig Cheesecake, and Sour Cherry Pie. More refreshing combinations are Salt & Straw's vegan Pink Rosé & Watermelon Sorbet and dairy-free Freckled Mint Chocolate Chip flavors.  

Molly Moon's, the socially conscious ice cream

We've talked a lot about ice cream shops that incorporate fresh ingredients, champion environmental sustainability, and take an artful approach to ice cream making — all of which are good for business and Mother Earth, but Molly Moon's was doing these things long before it was a widespread trend. The Seattle ice cream shop has 10 locations throughout the city, expanding steadily since owner Molly Moon Neitzel opened the first location in 2008. From the beginning, Neitzel aimed to create homemade ice cream that celebrates the local community: its farms, organizations, and people.

To make Molly Moon's signature flavors like Melted Chocolate, Scout" Mint, and Yeti (a sweet cream flavor with housemade granola), Neitzel and Co. predominantly use ingredients native to the Pacific Northwest. Buying from local farmers, coffee roasters, and beekeepers, a practice that supports small businesses in the area and makes for some awesome-tasting ice cream — sounds like a win-win! By donating to non-profit organizations in and around Seattle, providing a 401K matching program for its employees, and committing to renewable energy initiatives like wind power, Molly Moon's sets the standard for what ice cream shops can be in the 21st century. Dozens of grocery stores in Washington and Oregon sell containers of Molly Moon's ice cream, with more grocers being added to the distribution list weekly.

Soft Swerve puts color and creativity in the soft serve genre

Do not, we repeat, do not shell out $20 for a couple of soft serve cones from a truck near Times Square. Ice cream shops in New York City are all over the place, but if it's soft serve you're after, Soft Swerve is the place to get it. Soft Swerve started in December 2016 when childhood friends Jason Liu and Michael Tsang opened the original location on Allen Street in Chinatown. On the success of the first store, Soft Swerve grew, adding multiple Manhattan locations, and one apiece in Brooklyn and Queens. Larger chains like Carvel deliver when it comes to having more soft serve flavor choices than your average chocolate, vanilla, or twist, but Soft Swerve's Asian-influenced flavor selection is unlike most of the soft serve you've tried before. Picks like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Ube Purple Yam, and Hojica are authentic and satisfying, and they're also available as hard ice cream.

The vivid purple shade of Ube Purple Yam isn't the only vibrant menu item at Soft Swerve. Housemade waffle cones come in saturated colors like Red Classic and Black Chocolate. Add some quirky toppings like mochi, Fruity Pebbles, or Lucky Charms marshmallows, and your ice cream cone doesn't just taste great, but it's also begging to be photographed.

Two Roosters Ice Cream began as a food truck

For the family behind Two Roosters, making ice cream at Granny's house was a Sunday afternoon tradition. In 2014, owner Jared Plummer decided to turn those cherished memories into a business, and started Two Roosters Ice Cream out of a refurbished trailer hitched to a custom-painted turquoise Ford pickup truck. Plummer's food truck venture paid off, and he opened a brick-and-mortar location in Raleigh, North Carolina in the summer of 2017. Now, there are three Raleigh shops and a fourth in Durham, North Carolina. The Durham spot opened in 2020, and is located in the Golden Belt, a converted warehouse complex with a great outdoor area that's also home to an artisanal pizzeria and a local brewery. USA Today named Two Roosters one of America's best ice cream parlors.

Two Roosters has been able to expand because the ice cream is rich, high-quality, and inventive. The ice cream shop is known for its "forever flavors" like Strawberry & Honey, Blackberry Hibiscus, and Coffee Bourbon. Plummer also loves to get funky with his flavor concepts, and offers a monthly rotation of original ice creams that he dreams up with a small culinary team. Some of Two Roosters' bold flavor innovations include Pizza (yes, pizza), Sriracha, Fortune Cookie, and Key Lime Gingersnap.

Lick Honest Ice Creams perfects the farm-to-table experience

Austin, Texas is a foodie town, which means the stakes are high for new eateries trying to make a name for themselves, but it was a welcome challenge for Anthony Sobotik and Chad Palmatier when they began Lick Honest Ice Creams in 2011. The idea was simple: gather ingredients from local farms to create a line of all-natural ice cream free of soy, palm oil, and preservatives. Roasted Beets & Fresh Mint ice cream isn't a flavor for everyone, but the shop offers a lot of variety. Conventional components like vanilla bean, fruit, and chocolate have plenty of star turns on the menu alongside more daring combinations. 

Lick Honest Ice Creams' inventive approach to using homegrown ingredients like basil, honey, peaches, and goat cheese to make quality, farm-to-table ice cream has allowed the business to grow, and earned national recognition from top food critics. There are now Lick Honest Ice Creams in Houston, San Antonio, and College Station, Texas.

Handel's Homemade Ice Cream sticks with the original recipe

Many of the up-and-coming ice cream shops on this list are barely a decade old — mere infants compared to the legacy of Handel's Homemade Ice Cream. Its origins are in Youngstown, Ohio, where Alice Handel began sharing ice cream she created with an original recipe and fruit from her home garden with the neighborhood. That was in 1945, but Handel's Homemade Ice Cream is still going strong today. Though Handel's is a franchise operation boasting over 100 locations across 12 states, the ice cream you eat here is always made in-house using Alice Handel's recipes. Handel's ice cream shop leans on the traditional side of things, and every store sells at least 45 flavors each day including selections like Eggnog, French Silk Pie, Cinnamon Graham Cracker, and Black Walnut.

If you're in the mood for something a little different from a cone or dish of regular ice cream, Handel's offers an assortment of sherberts in fun flavors like Pink Champagne and Red Raspberry. It also sells something similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard — but it's called a Hurricane. Handel's bragging rights speak for themselves, but if you need convincing, it was named the #1 best ice cream by National Geographic's global travel guide "The 10 Best of Everything."

Millie's Homemade Ice Cream goes gourmet and is growing fast

Pittsburgh pride Millie's Homemade Ice Cream has taken its home-spun recipes and launched them into full-scale expansion, à la Handel's Homemade Ice Cream. At the end of 2022, Millie's announced it would be opening five more locations in the Pittsburgh area, bringing the total number of shops to 16. Millie's growth is especially impressive when you consider that owner Chad Townsend didn't even start making ice cream commercially until 2014. Townsend's operation began in his home kitchen, graduated to a delivery service, and has since become a successful ice cream shop, a food truck, and a franchise.

Townsend's background as a fine-dining chef speaks to his ability to make excellent ice cream from scratch that keeps customers coming back. Millie's gets its farm-fresh ingredients directly from Pennsylvania farmers, and is serious about sustainability and fair-trade practices. Flavors like Blueberry Lemon Bar and Backyard S'mores are so expertly mixed that they remind us why the word gourmet exists. Even if you don't live anywhere near Pittsburgh, grabbing a few pints of Millie's Homemade Ice Cream is still possible, the company website offers nationwide shipping.

Owowcow Creamery passionately feeds the community

We know how important it is for these growing ice cream shops to partner with regional farmers, but Owowcow Creamery, a small-batch business with locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, takes these practices so seriously it received a license from the Department of Agriculture to make its organic ice cream base. Owowcow Creamery was also named in USA Today's list of America's 10 Best Indie Ice Cream Shops in 2023.

Since 2009, owner John Fezzuoglio has adhered to Owowcow's original mission of supporting the local agricultural community and sharing the fruits of these labors with others. There are 24 hand-made ice cream flavors available at Owowcow at any given time — a mixture of staples like Cookie Monstah and I Hate Chocolate are offered beside vegan options and seasonal specialties. In addition to its five shops, Owowcow ice cream is sold in retail stores and restaurants.

Wanderlust Creamery is packed with international flavor

Allow your tastebuds to journey all over the world at Wanderlust Creamery, an ice cream shop that has opened seven Los Angeles area locations since 2015, and has an eighth on the way in Irvine. Co-founders Adrienne Borlongan and Jon-Patrick Lopez's affinity for travel and adventure are the inspiration behind the Wanderlust name and collection of whimsical ice cream flavors. Vegan offerings like Malted Ube and Sticky Rice + Mango play on delicacies from South-East Asia, while Abuelita Malted Crunch brings Mexican and Belgian chocolate together.

Seasonal ice cream is also a big thing at Wanderlust. Depending on when you walk into the shop, you might see one-of-a-kind creations like Spanish Gin & Tonic complete with edible flowers, or Thai Coffee & Brown Sugar Boba studded with chewy boba pearls. Chef Borlongan's imaginative flavor profiles are in demand. Nationwide shipping on pints is offered through the Wanderlust Creamery website, giving yet another nod to the company motto, "A destination in every scoop."