Many Denverites know Little Man Ice Cream as the iconic cream-can-shaped scoop shop on the corner of Tejon Street and 30th Avenue in LoHi. But these days, owner Paul Tamburello’s multi-concept ice cream brand is so much more: It’s Sweet Cooie’s Ice Cream and Confectionary in Congress Park and Old Town Churn in Fort Collins. It’s the Constellation Ice Cream, a month-old, aviation-themed outpost housed beneath a nearly 80-foot-long shiny silver replica of a plane wing in Stapleton’s Eastbridge Town Center. And soon enough, Tamburello will add to his empire the Little Man Ice Cream Factory near Sloan’s Lake as well as Dang, an Instagram-ready soft-serve shop in Park Hill. And that’s all in addition to Little Man’s booming wholesale business, which retails pints of its signature Salted Oreo and other flavors at area stores and sells by-the-scoop at places like Union Station’s Milkbox Creamery.
Why all the distinct branding and concepting? As Tamburello put it at the Constellation’s opening event, “familiarity kills wonder.” In fact, Constellation’s aviation theme was inspired by Tamburello’s own moment of childhood awe: the first time he flew over Denver in a plane departing the Stapleton airport. Brand new Little Man flavors, such as Cruising Altitude (a nod to airplane snacks with a speculoos cookie base studded with pretzels and peanuts) and stormy skies-inspired Turbulence (charcoal-tinted chocolate ice cream with crunchy chocolate pearls and a marshmallow swirl) complement the theme.
Wonder will be in ample supply when the Little Man Ice Cream Factory opens its doors on West Colfax Avenue, near Sloan’s Lake, sometime this summer. The site, which Little Man has already been utilizing as its central production facility for almost a year, is filled with whimsical, Willy Wonka-esque touches, starting with the entry foyer, which resembles a walk-in freezer.
Inside, sweet-seekers will quickly notice the absence of one standard Little Man feature: the long line. Instead, “we’re going to have a ticket system like at the DMV,” says pastry chef Claire Fields. “You can get your number, walk around and really see what we’re doing, talk to people at the baking counter, and then come over here [to the circular, marble-topped scoop counter] when you’re ready to order.”
Visitors can expect all of the standard Little Man treats, as well as some novelties. “We want this space to be the test kitchen for weird new flavors,” says Fields, who previously worked in the kitchens of Adrift, the now-closed Sugar Mill, and Grind Kitchen & Watering Hole. “We’re going to focus on ice cream flights and we’re also going to do Factory specials, which I’m really excited about.” Those specials will be unfussy-yet-plated desserts: “It might just be a warm slice of pie with our ice cream, or, we have a fryer, so we can do doughnuts.”
In fact, thanks to the increased kitchen space and new equipment, Little Man is making more of its own mix-ins than ever before (purchasing the ice cream base locally from Robinson Dairy), from the vanilla wafers that go into the banana pudding and Earl Grey with Cookies flavors to the creme anglaise that enriches the French toast ice cream. “We’re really moving in the direction of making everything in house,” Fields says. And come the yet-to-be-determined summer opening date at the Factory, ice cream lovers will get front-row seats to watch the process unfold.
Meanwhile, when Dang opens this summer, it will bring soft-serve ice cream in bright, colorful hues—think vibrant green matcha and moody, dark-gray charcoal—to the Park Hill neighborhood.
If you go: The Constellation Ice Cream (10175 E. 29th Dr.) is open starting at 11 a.m. daily. The Little Man Factory and Dang are both slated to open sometime this summer.