There are hundreds of reviews of Alleyway Ice Cream posted all across Facebook, Yelp, and Trip Advisor. Julian Hom, owner of the linen-closet-turned-icecream- shop, has commented on every review, personally thanking each customer. He’s obsessive.
Hom—a Woodstock native—left NYC where he’d been working as a photographer to move back to the Hudson Valley and open Alleyway Ice Cream in 2017. A traditional storefront would not do; instead, he inhabited an 80-square-foot linen closet beneath The Village Inn, a hotel owned by his father. Armed with an ice cream machine, a freezer, and a few scoops, Hom offered free samples—which he still does—and started dishing up his small-batch, hard-pack ice creams. Alleyway became such a hit that this one-man-band struggled: “It was me doing everything: making flavors, selling, scooping, cleaning, social media.”
Alleyway’s success enabled Hom to hire help. “I think that growing just a little can provide better opportunities for my employees all while continuing to make amazing ice cream,” he says. “But I don’t want to be a huge ice cream brand … I just want to be big enough to have a nice life: wake up in the morning, go hiking, have dinner. That feels good to me. And if Alleyway were any bigger, I couldn’t disappear for two months!”
Disappear he does. Each year, Hom takes inspiration from months long off-season travel. After sampling fruit in Cambodia, he added White Chocolate Passion Fruit ice cream to his seasonally changing roster. Depending on the time of year, you might find Hom roasting strawberries for Buttermilk Strawberry or subverting tradition with flavors like Blackberry Sage, Sweet Corn, or his cult favorite, Ube Heath Bar Crunch. He also offers luscious vegan options that include a deep, dark chocolate sorbet. And, happily, Hom’s photography training didn’t go to waste: On Instagram, Hom lovingly documents his changing flavors in improbably stacked cones and cups.
According to Hom, what distinguishes Alleyway from lesser makers is the amount of air he incorporates into his ice cream, a/k/a the overrun percentage. Obviously, air is free, while cream and sugar aren’t. Commonly, ice cream makers increase their profit by doubling the volume of their product with air, but Hom’s ice cream contains only about 30% air—or, just enough to gently lighten the density of an Alleyway scoop. Less air also yields more flavor: Hom’s ingredients retain their original intensity.
In April, at the start of the 2020 season, COVID-19 limited Alleyway to only selling pints for pickup or local delivery. Given a break from scooping at his service window, Hom used his extra time to partner with Hudson Valley Fresh and Bluestone Coffee Roasting to deliver over 400 pints to frontline medical workers. By June, as New York State was reopening, Hom was eager to get back to business. “I think that the more Alleyway grows, the more opportunities I have to make people’s days a little happier.”
This story was originally published in October of 2020.