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Ampersand Woman: Diana Hardeman of MilkMade

July 22, 2015 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

We have serious respect for any woman who can turn her love of ice cream into a successful business. But as Diana Hardeman of MilkMade has shown: Her ice cream isn’t just a business, it’s an art form. Her wildly inventive flavors change monthly, and there’s never a dull moment. Recent favorites include Torched S’more and June Gloom (blueberry laced with chocolate fondant). Oh, and then there was last year’s double-cream Brie ice cream that had cheese-lovers throughout New York swooning.

For those who need a regular infusion of ice cream (or ‘scream, as Diana calls it), MilkMade offers a monthly subscription service that delivers pints to your door. For those who need it now—like, right now—MilkMade now has a storefront in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens.

We recently stopped by to chat with Diana about disasters, her favorite hashtag, and the poem that inspires her. Okay, we may have eaten some ice cream as well.

Diana Hardeman of MilkMade

Outside her Brooklyn shop in a striped summer dress.

Tell us about MilkMade! Where did the idea come from?

I just wanted a better pint of ice cream. Dissatisfied with my local bodega’s offering, I wanted to make my own fresh, local ‘scream in seasonal, sophisticated flavors. In the summer of 2009, I bought a little ice cream machine, taught myself the art of ice cream making, and began serving it to friends in the city. Word spread pretty quickly, and within a few months of making my first pint, I found myself with a waitlist of hundreds.

What about the name? We love a double entendre.

A friend suggested it, along with the idea that my delivery team and I could dress up as milkmaids when delivering the ice cream. The costume idea was, of course, immediately nixed—but the name stuck.

Diana Hardeman in MM.LaFleur Eliza dress

Note to self: Follow Diana’s lead and pair an easy navy dress with gold sneakers.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

I’ve always kept a little book of ideas for businesses and creative projects. I’ve started a few, researched them, but nothing ever came to fruition before MilkMade. Note that the book certainly did not contain the idea “craft ice cream company.”

What are your goals for the future of MilkMade?

We’re committed to our values first: local production, responsible business practices, and the most delicious, inspired ice cream flavors—hand-delivered to our monthly subscribers. We’ll see how far we can take that—to other cities, nationally, maybe globally. We now have a shop, too, which is a great way to test new flavor ideas and connect with our members and fans.

MilkMade Ice Cream

Approved: MilkMade’s gorgeous red velvet cone and a cornflower blue top.

What lessons have you learned since starting your own business?

I’ve learned the importance of quick decision-making. As a small business owner, you are faced with hundreds of decisions every day. Get good at making them quickly. You may be wrong; you’ll probably be wrong. But a step in any direction is better than time wasted in deliberation.

Have you experienced any surprises (or disasters) along the way?

“A disaster a day” is kind of the motto around here. With so many moving parts in the business, we’re putting out fires just about every day (although no literal fires… yet). One of the most memorable disasters was two years ago.

We had just finished making a giant batch of custard for our Orange Julius flavor. As I was packing up the kitchen to leave for the night, I opened the fridge for a final check, just in time for the rack to break. Gallons and gallons of liquid orange custard spilled all over the kitchen—and all over me. I cried. And then I cleaned it up and started over.

Toi ministripe dress on Diana Hardeman

What’s your personality at work in three words?

I asked my team. They said efficient, pedagogical, funny.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

My family shares a favorite poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. It was passed from my grandfather to my father to me. The final lines are: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. That’s the advice that I carry with me every day.

How do you like to dress for work?

If I’m in the kitchen: it’s our tall galosh boots, shorts, and a dirty t-shirt. It gets pretty filthy in there. If I’m helping in the shop, it’s our Chambray shirts and our pink hats. Otherwise, I have an affinity for bright colors and dresses.

Diana Hardeman in MM.LaFleur

When you were little, what did you want to be?

A ballerina, an astronaut, a marine biologist, an archaeologist, and a mother.

When you “grow up,” what do you want to be?

The best.

What do you wish you had known when you first started working?

The importance of taking a moment to stop, turn around, and see how far you’ve climbed.

MilkMade magnets

Magnets for every flavor.

If you could have drinks with any woman, who would it be?

Amelia Earhart. Her brazen sense of adventure, commitment to her work, the stories of her journeys—it would be a fascinating date. We’d drink Aviators, of course.

Pour-over coffee… is overrated.

Coconut oil… is underrated.

What’s your motto?

In early January, I declared my hashtag for the year: #alwaysgo. Say yes to everything. Take every opportunity. So far, so good!

Photos by Frances F. Denny

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Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. She loves doughnuts and inter-species friendships. Read more of Tory's posts.

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