Little Man: To Fort Collins and Beyond
With no signs of slowing, innovative sweet-treat brand brings its creations to the masses
Late last October, Old Town’s new 2,000-pound steel ice cream churn began cranking out its goods. The Churn is Little Man Ice Cream’s latest expansion, and the first that’s not strictly in Denver. Little Man has gained attention for being one of the most innovative and philanthropic businesses of its kind in Colorado; its original shop sits in the shape of a 28-foot-tall cream can, and its “Scoop for Scoop” program donates a rice or beans to communities in need for every scoop of ice cream purchased. After Little Man’s foray into Fort Collins, will its 2,000-pound presence change the atmosphere of Old Town, or will it capitalize on the atmosphere that’s already there?
“I shouldn’t have been surprised by Fort Collin’s support on opening day, but I was,” Director of Operations at Little Man Ice Cream, Loren Martinez says. Even though the original plan was to open in early summer, late October still saw lines down the street and hour-long wait times at The Churn. “After trying to open in Fort Collins for five years now, it was truly special for us to have real customers here,” Martinez says.
The reason for the October opening?
Such a unique building had never been done before, says Martinez, and it’s actually still not quite completed – almost every day sees the addition of something new.
Plus, the Little Man team wanted to work with Fort Collins architects and artists, so they went with Ian Shuff for the design and Rick Murray for the artistry on the hand-made steel crank and handle, and by the time everything was ready for opening, it was already October.
They easily could’ve built another cream can, like the one in Denver – but as Martinez says, Fort Collins is not Denver, and deserves its own unique building. Its location used to be a livestock exchange back in the early 1900s, where people would trade animals, cheese, butter, milk and cream.
“We thought a cool way to pay homage to that would be to build an ice cream churn right there where people used to literally churn butter and ice cream,” Martinez says.
That’s also why the area is now called the Exchange, a food and market hall in recycled shipping containers which began three years ago and hopes to have its full tenant roster complete in early 2019. The Exchange is also working on approval from city council to become Fort Collin’s first open consumption area, which would allow for people to bring alcoholic drinks onto the plaza while they hang out with friends or wait in line.
“So far, The Churn has been a gamechanger for overall energy and foot traffic,” says Joshua Guernsey, general partner in the Exchange project. “We’ve completely created a community gathering place in an otherwise rundown place of downtown, extending its footprint one block north.”
Martinez says his Fort Collins team wants to work together with other Exchange merchants to animate the space, hosting workshops, live bands and inviting student organizations to get involved in its internship programs starting next summer.
“We hope to make this Fort Collin’s first open consumption family-friendly area,” Martinez says, “Where instead of closing down at 10 p.m., the space becomes a melting pot for everyone.”
They have ice cream for everyone, too – besides vegan and gluten-free options, Martinez says sugar-free ice cream may be on the horizon, as it’s their biggest challenge and opportunity.
And Little Man isn’t only expanding ice cream-wise; it has plans for two new establishments in 2019, as well as plans for opening a shop in RiNo in 2021. Just like they’ve told the story of the Exchange through building a churn, they want to tell the story of the old Stapleton Airport with an airplane-shaped shop in next year, and Martinez says his team wants to honor the RiNo area through whatever building design they end up choosing.
“I’m not ready to release what we’re going to do in RiNo yet, because we haven’t finished designing it,” Martinez says. “But we want to pay tribute to what that neighborhood used to be, which is really industrial, hands on, blue collar – we want to do our research and become part of the community.”
Martinez says they don’t have any plans yet to expand past 2021, but that we shouldn’t be surprised if they continue.
“Our big goal is to keep expanding as long as we can continue to be creative,” Martinez says.
Caroline Araiza is a student at Colorado State University, majoring in journalism.