ITHACA, N.Y.—Spring has been trying to convince us that it’s sprung, which means summer — and ice cream season — is right around the corner.

Melissa and Matt Kenny, who had a special place in their hearts for soft-serve as Matt’s parents had operated a soft-serve store in Syracuse while he was growing up, opened Sweet Melissa’s in 2009 in the Shortstop location.

Almost as soon as they opened, Melissa said, they began receiving requests for vegan options at the shop. “I started making our own vegan ice cream the following year in 2010, and I have been baking my whole life and love being creative so it was a fun adventure to start.” The next year she began experimenting with dairy ice cream, which took her several years to perfect.

After closing the Trumansburg location where she had a milk production plant that allowed her to make hard ice cream from scratch (and still adhere to New York State’s strict pasteurization laws), the plan was to sell it out of the Press Bay Alley location, though that was cut short in April 2020 when COVID forced it to close. “I didn’t have a venue to sell our hard ice cream anymore. We do sell some at our soft-serve shop, but not enough that it would be sustainable for me to keep making tiny batches of it myself,” she said.

After closing the production space, Melissa had to outsource. Because of Sweet Melissa’s “solid” (pun intended) reputation in Ithaca, the natural next step was to establish a distributor. Regional Access, which focuses its distribution on small businesses and local grocery stores, began to circulate the pints across its established network in New York State.

“It’s so cool to see my product throughout New York State, I honestly never thought I’d see that happen,” Melissa said, remarking that the silver lining of the two closed locations was wider distribution throughout the state she never anticipated.

Melissa said she doesn’t have current plans to expand past Regional Access’ reach. “I think the key thing about having a small business is adaptability and we’ve always been pretty good at listening to what our customers want and evolving based on that, so I honestly couldn’t tell you what’s next,” she said.

She also said that she’s happy focusing on the soft-serve shop and enjoying time with her kids while they’re young.“I do love thinking about all the possibilities though, who knows what can happen?”

The soft-serve shop downtown at 200 West Seneca Street in Ithaca will be opening sometime in April, though there isn’t an exact date yet as a new staff has to be hired and trained for the season.

If you just can’t wait, you can pick up a pint next door to the soft-serve shop at Shortstop Deli, the main Ithaca Bakery and Greenstar locations or P&C Fresh and Collegetown Bagels in East Hill Plaza. The full list of markets in New York and New Jersey carrying Sweet Melissa’s hard ice cream can be found here.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...