Dylan Lemay, throwing some ice cream at Catch’n.
Photo: Evan Angelastro
There are plenty of postings for New York food jobs these days, but the call for applications from a new shop called Catch’n Ice Cream looks a little different. “You wanna work here?” begins narration over a 32-second TikTok video, posted by popular creator Dylan Lemay. The 25-year-old currently boasts 11.2 million followers on TikTok, 3.69 million subscribers on YouTube, and over 300,000 Instagram devotees. Now, as he explains in the video, he’s opening his own ice-cream shop in Manhattan. “Right where this giant hole is, will be our slab,” says Lemay, as he mimes tossing a ball of ice cream onto a surface. “We’re gonna smash it down, and chop-chop, fold-fold it all together, throw it up into a cup, and hand it over.”
Lemay reports he got 70 applications off the video, and subsequently hired 15 people to work at Catch’n. When it opens in Noho this Friday, the new employees will — as the name suggests — be expected to fling orbs of ice cream into the air before serving them to guests. Lemay perfected his own technique during a nine-year stint at Cold Stone Creamery, and says he was further inspired by the playfulness of Turkish ice-cream vendors.
But the question remains: Why throw the ice cream? Well, that’s what we wanted to know, so we took a tour of the Bleecker Street storefront with Lemay and asked him to explain how he plans to translate social virality to brick-and-mortar success.
You have an enormous following online. How did that evolve into opening your own ice-cream shop?
During the lockdown, in May 2020, I started posting short-form videos and I realized, This is going to be bigger than I ever thought it could be. I was trying to find ideas for content, and I was working all day, so I thought I might as well record there. The first video that took off was me making an ice-cream cake for my sister’s virtual graduation. It got 2 million views. A week after that, I posted a video that got 8 million views within a day, called “Your First Day at Cold Stone,” teaching the audience how to work there. Within 60 days, I hit 1 million TikTok followers.
As I grew my platforms, I was trying to figure out how to get back to my roots, because I had to quit my job to fully commit to the videos. And the best way was to open my own shop, so I could create my own rules. The hardest part of starting a business is building an audience. As a creator, you come in with this group of people who already want to buy a product from you, and you just have to place it in their hands. It made sense to open an ice-cream shop. People already want to buy ice cream from me.
During your nine years at Cold Stone, did you have a go-to song when you were tipped?
Yes, the short and sweet one: “We got a dollar, we got a dollar, hey hey hey.” I would speed it up and sing really fast, to get it over with. Singing was really popular at the beginning of my time at the store, but toward the end, the culture shifted. It was a dying art.
It looks like the basic concept at Catch’n is: Customers can get various toppings chopped into scoops of ice cream, which are then tossed around in the air before they’re served. It does sound fun, but also I have to ask: Why throw the ice cream?
It’s really just to brighten someone’s day. Once you see a little kid’s face after you do it for the first time, you’ll never ask that question again. They’re amazed. They glow. You walk into a regular ice-cream shop and you watch their hand disappear into the container and come back out and you get the ice cream in a cup. It’s just stale. But if you walk in and there is ice cream flying around in the air? It automatically sends the energy level up.
It creates a different kind of experience.
People just really want to connect in new ways they haven’t before, and another big way of doing that is actually recording videos. Everyone is just constantly recording things and posting them to the internet. If someone walks into the store, they’re going to want to record one of my employees throwing around some ice cream, and they’ll upload it to YouTube Shorts or whatever other platform they’re on, and it just creates more and more ways for people to connect with each other.
Would you say there is a flavor and toppings combination that lends itself especially well to being tossed in the air and caught?
The best is Cookie Dough, because you don’t have to worry about toppings flying off. Some of the others, like the Fruity Pebbles, like to shed. Which does add to the fun.
And what kind of tricks are you all planning to do while the ice cream is airborne?
We’re trying to show the staff all kinds of stuff, and find out what they’re comfortable with. They can throw it behind their back, up in the air. They can throw it from one hand to the other. They can even throw it to the customer to catch in a cup, but we’re trying to avoid that for the first bit, because I want to make sure no one gets hit with ice cream.
Are a lot of your staff content creators?
When you ask people that question, most respond yes, even if they don’t have much of a following. That’s just the modern way things are going.
You clearly understand what resonates online, and it feels like that’s influenced the store — a name that’s a few degrees jauntier than “catching,” for example, plus the ice-cream stunts, and I’ve noticed you’re calling coffee ice cream “caffeine ice cream.” Are you intentionally bringing elements of internet virality to your brick-and-mortar shop?
It’s sure. Every decision we’ve made has been affected by my internet experience. For example, I’ve tried to streamline the process as much as possible for the customers, and for the employees. I knew it had to be quick. That’s why we’ve created a machine that makes the ice-cream balls. The customer doesn’t have to wait for someone to scoop, and the employees don’t have to do that, either. I’m used to that quickness, and I wanted to make it very simple with a few options that are fun for us all.
“Chop-chop, fold-fold” seems to be something of a catchphrase, parrotted throughout your TikTok and YouTube and Instagram videos promoting the store. Where did that come from?
It’s a Cold Stone phrase I used in my early TikToks, and now it’s a joke between my audience and myself. It means different things to different people. I say it in a lot of my videos.
Oh, sort of like “Oh my God, they killed Kenny”?
I don’t know…
It’s a line in South Park. Viewers are waiting for someone to say it in every episode.
Oh, totally, yes. If I don’t say it, people in the comments tell me.
In a lot of your videos, actually, I sense a sort of tongue-in-cheek approach. Like in your call for job applications, you have someone intending to fall through a window, and in the comments section, you act like you don’t know what people are talking about when they ask about him.
When you’re making short-form videos, you have to grab attention in any way. I once posted a video to try to get attention for me announcing the name of Catch’n. And in it, I touched the ice cream midway through with my bare hand. People were freaking out, losing their minds, and the comments were all like, “This is disgusting, I’ll never eat here.” By now, I’m sure no one even remembers that, but I’m sure they remember that I promoted a new ice-cream shop and that it’s called Catch’n. You just have to employ these random little things that may trigger people for the short-term, but it’ll get the information into their heads.
That sounds like a dangerous game — doing something shocking to seize attention. Isn’t there a risk to that? Like what if they just remembered you bare-handing the ice cream?
There’s definitely a risk to it. That’s why you have to be smart about it. If you want to do these things, you have to think through all of the options. As a content creator, you have to be prepared for anything.
At Catch’n, what’s the price of a single ball with toppings?
Is that a “69” joke?
Not intentionally. [Pauses to consider the possibility.] I guess so.
I noticed you also have 3.69 million followers on YouTube. Is that also a “69” joke?
My numbers are constantly growing.