By Hunter Richards
With three established ice cream shops competing for customers in Princeton, it raises the question: Which one is getting the cold shoulder?
The newest of the trio is The Bent Spoon in Palmer Square. Founded in 2004, the store is known for its constantly changing creative flavors—it’s had over 500 in its history.
“I think people want to try unique flavors and they’ve heard about us and that we’re good,” said one of the store’s managers and owners, Gabrielle Carbone.
The smallest of Princeton ice cream stores, Bent Spoon has only minimal seating for customers. “I think it makes it cozy,” Carbone said. She also said the store is especially proud of its organic ingredients. “The goal is to be able to have a place where people can make really good memories with really good ingredients,” she explained.
On a recent afternoon, one customer, Christine Meriz, said, “I come here way too often, according to my wallet—and my waistline.” Meriz added, “I have a four-year-old daughter who loves this place. She loves that they’re different.”
A two-minute walk away, which isn’t enough to work off the calories from the ice cream, is a store with a very dissimilar identity. Unlike Bent Spoon, Halo Pub offers the same flavors at all times, as well as lower prices. One customer, Peter, explained the difference this way: “Bent Spoon is excellent quality but too expensive . . . Both are excellent places but I just prefer here.” When asked if the quality difference made up for the price difference, he said, “It’s not worth the difference between here and there.”
Halo manager Antoine Newlin said that he thought the main factors attracting his customers are “affordability and family-friendly atmosphere. All our flavors are all natural—no artificial flavors, sugars, anything like that.” He added, “We’ve got a lot of regulars. A lot of students and a lot of families. With our prices, they’re able to afford us.”
A bit further away—a 10-minute walk from both locations and closer to campus—is Princeton’s oldest ice cream shop, Thomas Sweet. “It’s closer to where I am,” said Princeton graduate student and customer Cesar Perez, explaining his choice. He said he often sees other students when he stops in. “It’s pretty nice,” he added. “It’s very familiar.”
Walking into the store—where flavors are mostly determined by popular demand and suggestions by customers—one is immediately faced with a bright mural of people enjoying ice cream on the wall. Opposite the mural, one can see a picture of Albert Einstein licking an ice cream cone. Next to Einstein is a funhouse mirror.
Manish Rai, the father of children enamored by their curving shapes projected in the mirror, brought his family to Thomas Sweet for ice cream while on a campus tour for his son. Rai said, “I like it so far.” He continued, with a laugh, “I think the kids really like the mirror and it’s inviting.”
Said another customer, Michelle Klein, “Usually, it’s families here and college kids.”
Some ice cream businesses can’t withstand competition, yet Princeton’s three main establishments have managed to thrive by retaining their own unique identities. For Bent Spoon, Halo Pub and Thomas Sweet, these identities have been enough to avoid melting under the pressure from one another.