Like every kid ever, Hom loved ice cream as a child. He didn’t think much about it until about a decade ago, when his parents gifted him Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book. Within a year of playing around with his Cuisinart ice cream maker and testing the recipes from the cookbook, Hom got it in his head that he would open an ice cream shop. “I was like, ‘Okay, what’s the first thing you need? A commercial ice cream maker.’ So I went on Craigslist and found a batch freezer from a candy shop in New Hampshire, so I drove right up and got it,” he says. “Then for seven years it just sort of sat there.” Ah, dreams deferred. In the meantime, Hom built a successful career in New York City as a portrait photographer (his last project was shooting Hillary Clinton).
Then three years ago, he decided to start small with an ice cream cart in Saugerties, which he planned to run on weekends and at farmers’ markets. In a stroke of municipal irony, the town wouldn’t let him place the cart where he wanted (at the front of the alleyway) because it was within 50 feet of an operating restaurant (Bluestone Coffee Roasting, which his father owns).
Back to the drawing board. Hom’s father, Michael, owns the building where Alleyway currently lives and operates the inn upstairs. He had the idea to turn the inn’s linen closet in the ice cream shop. Low and behold a pocket-sized ice cream making facility and parlor was born. He has a good sense of humor about it, writing on the shop’s website, “Alleyway Ice Cream is the Catskill Mountains’ smallest, hardest to find ,and best reviewed ice cream shop.”
Hom uses a proprietary blend of dairy from Hudson Valley Fresh, which has the perfect balance of milk, cream, and sugar to achieve perfect creamy consistency. The ice cream is made batch by batch, four quarts at a time.
On a rainy day in early May, he was serving Earl Gray & Mom’s Scones, Madagascar Vanilla (made with beans that cost a staggering $400 a pound), Lemon Poppyseed, Belgian Chocolate, Mint Cookies and Cream (made with mint Oreos and vanilla), and Wildfire, a blend of fresh wintermint, habanero, and smoked walnuts. (Alas, we just missed Ube Heath Bar Crunch, made with a purple Filipino yam.)
Over the past two seasons, Hom’s technical and business skills have improved. “Before this, the only restaurant experience I had was getting fired from Panera,” he says with a laugh. In January he attended the weeklong Ice Cream College held annually at Penn State for the last 127 years. “Ben and Jerry took their correspondence course for $5 in the ’70s. I don’t think they offer that anymore,” he says. “Every ice cream person has gone there. It was so helpful. There were 140 participants from all over the world—China, Singapore, India, Peru, Kenya.” The course covers the science of ice cream making from freezing and pasteurization to the properties of different sweeteners to the serum point formula. “Lots of graphs and charts,” Hom says, paging through his two-inch-thick Ice Cream College textbook.
“I used to live in the city and I’ve traveled a lot for work, and there was no one up here doing all these interesting flavors,” he says. “I almost always have chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, because I can just do them really well and everyone likes them. But then I try to have one that is an elevated version of the normal spectrum, and two others that are more far out and intriguing.”
“The flavors change every week, or when I get bored,” Hom says. “I am always here testing things out. Just me, ice cream, and Terry Gross. And I must say, making ice cream for people is so much more satisfying than photography.”