Entrepreneurs

How the 26-year-old Museum of Ice Cream founder turned Instagram gold into a million dollars

Maryellis Bunn loves to play with color.

An entire room of her New York City apartment is pink, as is her office in the city's Meatpacking District. The Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC), which she co-founded in the summer of 2016, featured a rainbow sprinkle pool.

Now her latest creation, The Pint Shop, is an ice cream shop filled with banana yellow, cherry red and turquoise-colored aisles. On a recent day, Bunn spoke to CNBC wearing pants the color of a juicy red apple.

"I'm really interested in the psychology of color," the 26 year-old entrepreneur told CNBC Make It recently.

"For women...pink leads to happiness and good thoughts," she said, speaking about the soft millennial pink, the color that covers multiple walls of The Pint Shop. The space opened in New York City on June 6.

Source: The Pint Shop

Bunn has developed a following from her ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. Since its inception, the MOIC has approximately 394,000 followers on Instagram. In about a week, The Pint Shop had over 14,000 Instagram followers.

"Food is a language which we all understand," says Bunn, who studied both business and design in college. "When you have something as simple as ice cream, it's something that's really happy and it brings people together in a way that's unexpected."

"My design philosophy is constant evolution," said the petite brunette, who serves as the MOIC's CEO and creative director.

Yet it's not just color: Bunn operates like a mad scientist for the senses. Vanilla, chocolate and churro are just some of the exotic fragrances that permeate The Pint Shop's tasting room.

"Just take a gentle whiff," one Pint Shop flavor expert — dressed in a fluffy pink lab coat — asked a visitor as she held an oversized beaker of ice cream. Soon afterward, attractive men emerge from the kitchen carrying trays of Pinata, Cherrylicious and Vanillionaire ice cream, some of Bunn's signature flavors.

Everyone is instructed to cleanse their palettes before adding toppings like sprinkles or graham cracker sauce. It's eye candy on overdrive.

Visitors can touch and feel things too, such as the cherry pit inside an eight-foot tall pint of ice cream meant to be jumped in.

Created by Maryellis Bunn, the founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, The Pint Shop is inundated with pink, including pink lab coats for tasting. The New York City ice cream eatery and shop opened in June.
Kellie Ell | CNBC
Created by Maryellis Bunn, the founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, The Pint Shop is inundated with pink, including pink lab coats for tasting. The New York City ice cream eatery and shop opened in June.

MOIC is actually an acronym for the "movement of imagination and creativity," not Museum of Ice Cream, Bunn said, although the sweet treat is a big part of it. While the company had some sponsors for the original museum, including an exhibit by Tinder, Bunn said she owns the company "100 percent."

Thirty thousand tickets for Manhattan's original Museum of Ice Cream, priced between $12 and $18, quickly sold out, according to a report by the New York Magazine. That's roughly half a million dollars in ticket sales for only one location. In 2017, tickets to all of the pop-up museums sold out. A representative for Bunn says the company is now valued at more than a million dollars, based on ticket sales and products sold.

The Pint Shop is free, but tickets to the the tasting room are $28.

Solving a problem

The company is clearly something Bunn is passionate about. "I work 20 hours a day," she said, adding that her mission is to inspire imagine and creativity in others.

When the Laguna Beach, Calif. native relocated to New York City, Bunn was surprised to learn that even in a city with more than eight million people, she felt lonely. But she quickly realized it wasn't just her or peers that felt that way. It was everywhere.

"People are desperate for connection," Bunn said. "Everybody's on their phones. Where do we have to go to connect?"

Bunn couldn't find one, so she decided to create one with the Museum of Ice Cream. The pop-up, which Bunn referred to as a "passion project," was supposed to last less than a month.

However, the response was so overwhelming that the temporary museum quickly moved to Los Angeles and Miami, and it's currently in San Francisco. Not only that, copycat museums began popping up as well, including museums for foods like eggs, candy, pizza and avocados.

Consumers, however, are still hungry for ice cream.

"What people have done is taken exactly my model, skimmed it and they have a very surface-level kind of thing," Bunn told Make It, who pointed out that some of these museums even charge the exact same admission fee.

"They're building things for Instagram," she says. "That was never once on my radar. I don't think they actually understand the framework of our foundation."

No fear

Bunn, who is soft-spoken and humble in person, considers herself to be an aggressive business woman.

"I don't have fear," she said. "I try things out. If they don't work, they don't work. But I'm not scared of failing. Nothing is holding me back."

Rather, she says, failures are an opportunity for improvement. And it seems to be working.

"Every day we have people showing up in droves," she says. "They want to have an experience. There's something there. When I use my imagination, that's where my magic is."

Bunn credits her success to following her passion, and trying to solve a problem she originally set out to do.

"I'm trying to change the way in which we spend our time," she said. That includes having more "human-to-human connections" in real life.

Another essential ingredient are her teammates. Bunn's core team began with just four people, she said. Additional employees, many of whom were already friends with Bunn, all share Bunn's passion.

That idealism is reflected by the employees in The Pint Shop, who wear buttons declaring "Anything is possible."

"Everyone on my team knows this," Bunn says.

"The people are the most important thing," she adds. "You have to build up the right team with the right people on it. I'm only successful because of the people on my team."