ITHACA, N.Y.—The shakes and sundaes will keep on coming from Purity Ice Cream’s doors, but the next stage in its long life has begun, as its new owner takes the reins. Local restauranteur Kevin Sullivan has purchased the building and business from longtime owners Bruce and Heather Lane.
“I’ve been eating Purity Ice Cream since I was at least six years old, probably younger,” Sullivan said. “It’s been around for generations and been the standard for such a long time, it is truly an institution, a business that is a part of the fabric of the community. What Bruce and Heather did, the business they built, made this really attractive.”
To those involved with the Ithaca restaurant scene, Sullivan is a familiar face. A “half-Ithacan” who grew up in Ithaca and nearby Moravia, he has a hand in over half a dozen different eateries in and around the city of gorges. Those include Luna Inspired Street Food, Jack’s Grill, Pronto Craft Pizza, the Ithaca Ghost Kitchen and Loco Cantina, among others. (Customary disclosure, Sullivan has worked with the Ithaca Voice as an events partner and sponsor.)
“Heather was about the same age range I was when she started as a restaurant operator, and she was an incredible operator. What she did with her staff and the training, the way she operated things, it was very refreshing. This is the first time that I’ve really acquired a business. But this is really more about steeping into the workflow that they already have going. That said, there are some things that I bring to the table that will hopefully help Purity survive for another 85 years,” said Sullivan.
According to the deed filing with the Tompkins County Clerk on Nov. 12, an LLC associated with Sullivan paid $1.8 million for the property at 700 Cascadilla Street, which includes both the ice cream shop and its preparation/cold storage space, as well as boutique rental office space above.
“When I initially talked with Bruce, back in the summer of 2020, I said it was out of my reach, it’s a wonderful business but there’s no way I could pull this off. But I came back around and Bruce and I contacted, and I really wanted to give this a shot, own the property and the business to make sure Purity has the longevity to stay a few generations. I had to seek out a silent local partner and achieve the financial stability that makes sure the business thrives, and I was successful,” said Sullivan.
As noted by 14850.com, which covers Ithaca’s dining scene extensively, the new Purity menu is slimmed down from previous offerings, to allow for more efficient, quick service. Apart from the ice cream, shakes and frozen treats in their many flavors are burgers (meat and vegetarian), fries (potato and sweet potato), chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets, all made fresh. Sullivan is bringing on additional staff to handle food prep, and using order kiosks as part of the customer service.
“We fired the kitchen back up after it had closed at the start of COVID, rolled out things that pair up well with the quick service level,” Sullivan said. “My goal was to jump in and not screw up things that were already working. Online ordering has been a huge hit.”
Other near-term changes mostly focus on getting Purity back out into the Ithaca community following the disruptions of the pandemic. That includes a greater presence at community festivals and events, as well as working with other restauranteurs to offer Purity Ice Cream on their dessert menus. While Bruce Lane mentioned the idea that Purity could be successful if the new owner looked beyond Ithaca for new shop locations, Sullivan stressed that his focus is on the West End shop.
“Purity operates completely independently of the rest of our restaurant organization. We can provide mentorship to team members, and as we’ve grown, the resources that we have allow us to take on projects like the Purity acquisition seamlessly, without interrupting the current teams,” said Sullivan, a comment echoed by Purity manager Sam Newlin in the Daily Sun.
“The brand is so cool and so beloved, there’s a real opportunity to bring Purity to other markets, but our main focus is on Ithaca. I’ve grown up around here, I like living in this area, and at this point our focus, me and my organization, is very local.”
“The recipes that have been used since Leo (Guentert) started Purity in 1936 haven’t changed. We use the same quality ingredients, we do plan to introduce a couple new flavors but it will be at that same quality level. Our eggnog is flying off the shelves with the season. Although we are embracing some new things as we brings Purity into its next stage, we still plan to have that classic service level and quality that people have to expect,” Sullivan added.
Purity, which first began in 1936, had been under the ownership of Bruce and Heather Lane for almost 24 years, who revived the enterprise and turned it into a staple of Ithaca’s culinary offerings. Seeking full retirement, the Lanes placed Purity up for sale last spring, and were willing to take their time finding the right buyer for the ice cream shop that would keep up their high standards and work well with Purity’s staff. With any luck, they’ve found that with Sullivan.
“Heather and I are very pleased that Kevin Sullivan, a local boy if ever there was one, will be the new owner of Purity Ice Cream. He loves the product, the place, and the customers and he has been one all his life having grown up just down the street. We thank the readers of The Ithaca Voice, as well as everyone else who has ever spent quality time behind a Purity Ice Cream cone, for your loyal patronage. My best recommendation for keeping Purity on your dining list is the fact that I still stop in for treats almost daily, even though I now have to pay retail,” quipped Bruce Lane.
“I’ve loved Purity my whole life and I want to leave it better than when we found it, just like Bruce and Heather did all those years ago. They did a lot of hard work for me, building a beautiful building with an incredible team, everything is running so well, I’m just carrying the torch forward,” said Sullivan.