Clancy’s Cafe and Creamery, Hyde Park, NY
Clancy’s Café and Creamery churns out tiny batches of cold comfort as well as giant Reubens, Bruschetta sandwiches and crazy addictive fried pickles. The space is simple: café tables, black and white photo murals and a flavor request chalkboard. Clancy’s specializes in real-deal retro goodness. Grab a seat and order (mostly) locally- and ethnically-sourced artisanal ice cream made fresh daily. On warm summer nights you’ll find the line out the door. Leigh Clancy wins over vanilla palates with flavors like Almond Joy (fresh coconut base with almonds and bites of chocolate) and Blueberry Cheesecake that are worth the wait. Classics are always served but it’s easy to get hooked on the wine flavored ice creams. The addictive substance (Cherry Merlot, Dark Chocolate Pinot Noir, and Raspberry Riesling) is just one of the rich, creamy, from-scratch flavors on offer. One bite of a seasonal micro-batch and you’ll know why the trip up the Hudson River and the twenty minutes you spend debating flavors was worth it.
Leigh had 30 years working in retail to hone her ideas and recipes. “I decided to open a café and ice cream shop in the toughest winter in 25 years (2014),” says Leigh. “You get beaten down so quick! Community Capital got us through!” Community Capital New York provided a small business loan of $12,000 to make her dream of running a hometown-friendly cafe possible, located next door to a canopy Zip Line, the Vanderbilt Mansion and FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt’s first big house. Leigh and partner John Augustinski now employ 14, having just hired two additional cooks for the breakfast shift (Clancy’s is open for three square meals on weekends). “Seven AM to midnight was a very long day, still,” sighs Leigh, “it was so hard to let go.”
How did you get into the café and ice cream business?
I’d been in retail for the last 30 years and always wanted to own my own business. I found this tiny ice cream parlor on Craigslist and bought the business knowing the first thing to go was the garish hot pink and orange color scheme. I also knew that ice cream couldn’t sustain us in the winter, so I decided to make it an ice cream café.
How did you get your business off the ground?
No one comes into an ice cream shop in a bad mood. Everyone’s happy. But right off the bat we hit trouble. We’d originally decided to build on the original owner’s name, Inside Scoop, and realized too late—after investing in new signs, menus and tee shirts for staff—that the original name was too limiting and represented a seasonal ice cream shop and we were building a year round business. So we reinvested, changing the name to Clancys Café and Creamery to signal new owners and new food, to go with the calmer palette of gray and burgundy. We thought we were doing fine, even setting aside rainy day funds, until two freezers broke down and we were looking at flat sales from September through winter as we re-launched. We needed to do an equipment upgrade, and create another dipping station for cones. Community Capital’s loan got us through, enabling us to buy new freezers, add the dipping station, and pay for the new signage.
How did your business evolve?
We did a lot of advertising. We’re right off Route 9, but run parallel, so a lot of tourists don’t come this way. Advertising and word of mouth led to us being named to the Best Hudson Valley Ice Cream purveyor. I’m the CEO, the chef, the marketer, but never afraid to reinvent. This is our third menu. We had to do some price adjusting, and move to really good quality food and charge a little bit more. Everything is made to order. Even our tuna and chicken salad is made fresh, on the fly, and our breads are from a local bakery delivered at 4 am. But we work hard to keep the prices reasonable for the average Joe. The demographics are from age 2 to 80. We have success with mothers, and with Seniors; we’re wheelchair accessible and cater to gluten-free and other dietary needs. We also insert 13,500 menus into the local Sunday paper. Menu inserts pay for themselves in less than a week in the Hyde Park Observer and the Poughkeepsie Journal. We also distribute them at local culinary schools, and give students at Marist College, 10 minutes away, and Vassar, 15 minutes, a 10% discount.
Why wine ice cream?
I’m a master mixologist, I figured that mixing ice cream flavors was no different than mixing cocktails. You just have to find the right balance.
Best advice you received?
Focus on one thing at a time. Maybe eventually we’ll focus on wholesaling the wine ice cream to local restaurants and specialty food stores. But people have a tendency to dive into too much.
Your best advice for new businesses?
Network! I’m a big believer in participating in the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce, getting onto local town boards and speaking up about local ordinances that make it hard to succeed.
Immediately, a Sangria ice cream. Then another dipping station and a freezer so we can display ice cream cakes properly. We’re now selling 15-20 a week, and believe we can increase that if they are better displayed. My daughter makes a fantastic “Despicable Me” cake and people love it—but we’ll sell more if they can see it easier, the same with our ice cream cookie sandwiches. We also want to take a portable freezer to food and wine festivals. We did one in Poughkeepsie and it generated new customers for us. I’m also hoping to open a second location. But first, we’re going to begin piping music outside, and landscaping for summer.