Despite what the Hallmark Channel tells us at this time of year, fairy-tale endings don’t always stick.
Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, the Brooklyn couple who founded Ample Hills Creamery, have been fired by the same investors who came to the rescue of the popular ice cream brand in June. Norm Brodsky, the angel investor who put together nearly $1 million to help them reopen four stores and a production center last summer, confirmed the firings on Wednesday; they were first reported by Inc., where Mr. Brodsky is a columnist.
Mr. Smith said in an interview that he and Ms. Cuscuna had lost everything. “We have no equity, no contract and no jobs,” and were denied severance, he said.
But Mr. Brodsky said the terms of the couple’s departure have yet to be negotiated. “They are lovely people who have creativity and talent,” he said. “That talent does not extend to running a business.”
He and the couple agreed that Mr. Smith and Ms. Cuscuna had quickly clashed with the company’s new chief executive: Lisa Teach, a longtime adjunct professor at the business school endowed by Mr. Brodsky at his alma mater, Rider University, in New Jersey. Ms. Teach, a minority investor in Ample Hills who has also owned Five Guys franchises, declined to comment.
Mr. Smith and Ms. Cuscuna opened a modest scoop shop near their Prospect Heights apartment in 2011 and spent a decade building Ample Hills into a national brand with 17 stores, Disney tie-ins, endorsements by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, and packaged pints sold in supermarkets.
But the breakneck expansion proved fatal: They lost the company to bankruptcy in 2020, and sold it for $1 million to an Oregon machine-parts company, Schmitt Industries, that struggled to keep the company afloat. In the resulting fire sale of Ample Hills assets, the couple bought back the brand for $150,000.
Looking back, Mr. Smith told The New York Times in June, “We made every mistake it is possible to make.”
Apparently that was not quite true.
After losing Ample Hills, in 2021 the couple opened a community-themed ice cream parlor, the Social, near their original shop. Hoping to deepen their business knowledge, they networked extensively and found their way to Mr. Brodsky, a veteran entrepreneur in Brooklyn who often mentors small business owners. Mr. Brodsky made an initial $450,000 investment in the Social, then helped fund the purchase and restart of the Ample Hills brand with additional investors. They formed a new holding company, Do-Nut Hills, that now operates both the Social and Ample Hills (and that Mr. Smith and Ms. Cuscuna did not invest money in).
“We hoped that the investors would see the value in our ideas,” Mr. Smith said.
He acknowledged that he and Ms. Cuscuna once again got caught up in the creative challenges of the business; and, trusting Mr. Brodsky, they neglected to secure the contracts and documentation that would have made firing them impossible.
Mr. Brodsky said his mandate for Do-Nut Hills is the same as for all the other companies he has run: remaining profitable and protecting jobs, including the 50 employees currently on the books. “I think this is a happy ending for most of the people involved,” he said.