In a shocking turn of events, the once-thriving Big Gay Ice Cream has found itself in a dire financial situation, resulting in a lawsuit and the closure of all but one location. The New York City-based soft-serve chain, known for leveraging queer identity as a brand strategy, had experienced a meteoric rise, opening seven shops in the Northeast and even landing its products in supermarkets across the country. However, the pandemic proved to be its downfall, with the company now facing debt, eviction, and unpaid debts.
On Friday, co-founder Doug Quint filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against another partner, Jon Chapski. The lawsuit accuses Chapski of mismanaging the company and fraudulently collecting government loans during the pandemic. Chapski, through a spokesperson, stated that he was reviewing the lawsuit with his lawyer and would respond at the appropriate time.
Big Gay Ice Cream's journey began in 2009 when the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck made its debut at the annual Brooklyn Pride parade. It quickly garnered attention and became a symbol of the LGBTQ+ movement, coinciding with the rise of shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race" and Lady Gaga's anthem "Born This Way." The company's first brick-and-mortar shops in Greenwich Village became popular destinations for both locals and tourists, who were drawn in by the cheeky branding and unique flavors.
The founders, Quint and Bryan Petroff, successfully built a mainstream following, helping to normalize LGBTQ+ representation in the food industry. In 2017, Nestle began distributing the company's hard-pack ice cream in supermarkets nationwide, further solidifying its presence in the market. However, the pandemic took a toll on the business, leading to multiple missteps and unpaid debts.
Quint and Petroff, who now work in unrelated fields, expressed their hopes of saving the company and continuing without Chapski. Quint is seeking at least $4 million in damages, accusing Chapski of breach of contract and fiduciary irresponsibility. In the lawsuit, Quint alleges that Chapski failed to pay landlords, vendors, and the IRS while collecting government loans during the store closures.
Public records reveal that the company received loans totaling over $500,000 for its New York City stores. Quint claims that while the company faced financial hardship, Chapski continued to live a lavish lifestyle, owning valuable properties in Tribeca and Montauk, which is now in foreclosure.
Currently, Big Gay Ice Cream operates only one location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which is run by Jeremy Wladis. Wladis, who was granted permission by Chapski to use the brand and recipes, expressed his unease with the arrangement and attempted to contact Quint and Petroff directly, but received no response. Petroff alleges that Chapski blocked their access to company email and social media accounts.
The rise and fall of Big Gay Ice Cream is not an uncommon story in the food industry. Similar to the fate of Ample Hills, another beloved ice cream brand forced into bankruptcy after a rapid rise in popularity, Big Gay Ice Cream faced challenges when its growth exceeded its income and infrastructure.
Despite the controversy surrounding the brand's marketing and its impact on the LGBTQ+ community, Big Gay Ice Cream played a significant role in breaking barriers and creating a safe space for queer individuals in the food industry. While some criticized the brand for trivializing the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community, others praised its commitment to flavor, creativity, and inclusivity.
As the future of Big Gay Ice Cream remains uncertain, Quint reflects on the irony of returning to his rural hometown in Maine, where he had once fled as a miserable gay teenager. The closure of the flagship store in the East Village and the eviction from other locations have left the founders devastated, realizing that creative control means little if financial decisions are in the hands of someone else.
It remains to be seen whether Big Gay Ice Cream can recover from its current state and reclaim its position as a symbol of LGBTQ+ representation in the food industry. In the meantime, Quint's lawsuit against Chapski will shed light on the alleged mismanagement and financial misconduct that led to the company's downfall.
themes: New York City New York (state) Maine