Remember the feeling of being handed an ice cream cone as a kid? You probably don’t need to dig too deep for that scrap of nostalgia. After all, until you’re at least ten, maybe twelve years old, there’s no better thing that can happen to you.
The fact is, that feeling doesn’t erode much with age. Stand outside of any ice cream parlor, at any time, anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by a steady stream of childlike grins – on faces of all ages.
Recently, we discussed restaurants serving up immersive experiences alongside high-quality cuisine and cocktails. These locations combine the standard staples of an evening out – dinner, drinks, decor, music – with a variety of immersive options, with an eye towards becoming “one-stop shops” for guests’ entertainment dollars. When properly executed, it’s easy to envision these concepts as the future of going out.
What if, instead of a restaurant or gastro bar, dinner, and drinks, combined the meticulous design of a Disney theme park and the creativity of a modern art gallery; then added a scoop (or four) of euphoria-inducing ice cream?
Ladies and gentlemen welcome to – it’s honestly tough to even type the words without smiling – the Museum of Ice Cream.
From Pop-Up to “Blowing Up”
Over 18 days in the summer of 2016, a team led by a then-24-year-old digital strategist turned entrepreneur, Maryellis Bunn, and her boyfriend, a former investment banker named Manish Vora, transformed a series of empty retail spaces in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District into the first Museum of Ice Cream.
That project, a pop-up, opened in the final days of July, for just over a month, until August 31. Despite Bunn’s fears that the project would fail to capture the public’s imagination. In under a week, every available ticket for that run – some 30,000 – was spoken for. In light of that spectacular showing, Bunn & Co. took their show on the road, with similar pop-ups in Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco – all of which also quickly sold out.
It’s not just that every ticket for each activation was snapped up, the concept itself resonated with the “inner children” of not only average guests but also with those of some of the planet’s most influential stars. Among the global superstars to attend those early Museums of Ice Cream, were David Beckham, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, and Blue Ivy, along with her parents, of course: Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
The San Francisco location, just off of the city’s Union Square, was so popular that, in 2018, after a five-month run as a pop-up, it became the first permanent Museum of Ice Cream. Though the location has since closed, it served as a vital testing ground, most notably for encouraging guests to experience the Museum “device-free.” As strange as that sounds for a company whose success is driven by its eminent “Instagramability”, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. After all, as Bunn says:
“It’s about shareability and fostering a feeling of enjoying the moment and presence, without a need for dependency [and]… building a real world that’s so captivating and engaging, that things like dependence on devices and social media don’t need to be in the conversation.”
In the summer of 2021, on the heels of the San Francisco closure, another two permanent locations opened. One, with 12 installations, is located in Austin. The other, marking the company’s first foray overseas, is a 14-installation, 10-room, 60,000-square-foot location in Singapore’s Dempsey Hill. The following summer brought another two locations: Chicago and Shanghai.
On top of all that, Bunn and her team have launched an ice cream brand (with seven flavors) and a children’s apparel line for Target, collaborated with Sephora. In August 2019, MOC raised $40 million in Series A funding, at a whopping $200 million valuation.
Day At The Museum
So, what exactly should one expect on a trip to the Museum of Ice Cream? In the words of Business Insider, the Museum of Ice Cream “is a Willy Wonka factory come to life that you won’t want to leave.”
In short, Bunn’s brainchild aims to “inspire imagination” by vibrantly bringing to life the images we most closely associate with ice cream via immersive installations. Among the numerous features are:
- Playspace, playgrounds with banana and cherry swings and slides, and a pastel-themed version of a unicorn playground;
- Melted Infinity, a “trippy space” with mirrored walls that’s home to a series of neon melted ice cream installations.
- The Yellow Jungle – another, similarly trippy space, in which guests make their way through a tunnel made up of 10,000 multi-colored bananas.
Beyond that, guests can partake in ice cream trivia, design their own ice cream cones using interactive touch screen panels, and race marbles down the spiral track winding down from atop a (non-edible) confectionary castle in Marble Run. Included with the cost of admission ($33 and up), each guest is treated to multiple helpings of delicious ice cream along the way, at various beautiful and whimsical pit stops like Palm tree-lined California Dreamin’, where adults can also indulge in some boozy scoops, like crowd-favorite alcoholic pina colada; and Scream’s Diner, a pink-hued retro-style diner, complete with working jukebox.
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