Hello Honey was coming off its best sales year in 2019. But just as the owners of the popular downtown ice cream parlor were thinking about expanding, COVID hit, closing down the shop for several weeks. After retooling their website, owners Brian and Nitima Nicely cautiously opened for pre-orders and curbside pickup—and right away, they noticed something. Customers who would occasionally come in for a cone were now placing huge orders. “No one needs six or seven pints of ice cream,” Brian says, laughing. It was clear people were making an effort to help the beloved downtown spot weather the worst of the pandemic. “It really warmed our hearts,” he says.
Hello Honey has carved out its own unique place in the ice cream landscape since opening in 2012. And there’s plenty to set it apart. There are the unusual flavors, like honey lavender and banana honeycomb, along with distinctive concoctions like black sesame and Thai iced tea, inspired by Nitima’s Thai heritage. The ice cream is all churned right in the shop. Cones are baked fresh and pints are hand-packed to order.
Along with the ice cream itself, the shop has become famous for its little extras, like the house-made marshmallow garnish (roasted on the spot with a little blowtorch), along with fresh baked goods and hot skillets, filled with desserts like blueberry pie, served with ice cream on top.
Before the pandemic, the Nicelys were in talks to open a second Hello Honey location in East Walnut Hills. Despite the operating challenges of the past year, that plan hasn’t changed, even if the pace of expansion has slowed a bit. The downtown shop has re-opened, but only at about half capacity due to social distancing regulations. The couple has used the downtime to experiment with new flavors, including a line of vegan offerings, and they’re beginning to reintroduce some of their skillet specials on weekends.
The Walnut Hills location is slated to open in the spring. Even as they expand, the Nicelys still plan on operating the second location with the same intimate touches as the first, including making the baked goods and ice cream on the spot. “There’s nothing like ice cream churned a few feet away,” Brian says. It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the end of this crisis than a pint—or maybe six or seven.