Custard connoisseur and co-founder of Huddle Soft Serve Kyle Hunt gives SEEN the scoop on his journey into the ice cream business, his favorite local spots, and his favorite thing about Detroit
By Kaitlyn Luckoff
Featured photo via @huddlesoftserve
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background.
I am the co-owner of Huddle — my wife, Lea and I both own it. We used to own a restaurant in the Eastern Market called Gather. We closed that down and opened a bar called Collect, and we just opened a new bar with friends called Two Birds, located in the West Village. There is a Huddle window there also! Before that, I was in the sustainable world, working as a sustainability manager and helping corporate companies become eco-friendly.
2. How did you get started in the industry?
I think the number one thing is that we wanted to work for ourselves. Ice cream is great, because everyone that has a cone is happy! My dad was in the ice cream industry, and when I was a kid I would clean the machines for him and he would repair them. I would shine them up and then he would either re-sell them or rent them out. So I’ve been around ice cream for some time now.
3. Why did you choose to open up shop in Detroit?
We live in Detroit and wanted to be able to own something and live in the same city. We are from the suburbs, but we’ve been in the city for about eight years now. Detroit is great! Everyone is so supportive of each other, versus other markets where it is a little bit more competitive. Detroit is like one big collaboration, and everyone is trying to do their best and give the city the credit that it’s due.
4. Have you ever considered expanding or offering more soft serve flavors?
No, not really. We really enjoy the simplicity of chocolate, vanilla, and twist — it’s nostalgic! Our biggest thing is simplicity. People get done with a busy day at work and sometimes it’s nice that there’s only three options. It’s quick and easy [plus] we’re only [operating in] about 60 square feet, which is pretty much someone’s bathroom or closet. It’s small, so our [ability] to bring in another machine is pretty minimal. It’s hard sometimes, because your brain wanders to all of the things that you could do. But if you give someone strawberry, then they want coconut, and if they want coconut, they want Oreos, and it just goes down this giant rabbit hole of what to offer, so we try to keep it simple.
5. What has it been like working in the food industry during the pandemic?
It was wild. We just had to keep on moving and keep on trying to switch things up. We turned our ice cream truck into a delivery truck and we delivered pints and cones to people. Every day and every week was something different: different regulations and different comfort levels for people, so we just had to keep adapting to survive.
6. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far?
Being able to raise a family, and have a kid and wife, and being able to run a fairly fun business model. It’s crazy thinking that every day we go to work and we’re just serving ice cream — going to birthdays, going to weddings. That’s a really big highlight. If a kid drops his or her cone, we just give them a new one and life goes on. It’s cool to be that daily treat for a person! We were working corporate jobs and obviously we weren’t really loving it, and our days weren’t fulfilled until we did something for ourselves.
7. What was your biggest mistake or failure and what did you learn from it?
You learn every day. You do things wrong all the time, and things break , and things aren’t executed on the right level. We’re always learning from what we do and how we can make people happier. Our biggest mistake, I would say, is that people hear about Huddle, and they are planning their downtown trip around it and then they get there and it’s [just] chocolate, vanilla, and twist. Setting the right expectations is something we’re always working on.
8. How do you find balance between work and your personal life?
Owning three small businesses, it’s fun because my wife gets to be around a lot and so does our son, Homer. He gets to go to the window and the bar, he loves the roof at Collect. He knows when we’re downtown and near the window and he’ll start screeching and getting all excited, because a cone might be in his future. We have a pretty good work/life balance. It’s a lot of work, but we get to see our friends and family a lot, which is really nice. Even my parents will come down to get a cone.
9. If you weren’t a small business owner, what would you be doing instead?
I wouldn’t do anything else. The reason why we own Collect and Two Birds is it gives us the other side of it, the bar side of it, which is really fun.
Now onto some fun…
10. What was your first job growing up?
When you go to the driving range and hit golf balls, I was the kid that picked up all the golf balls in the field. I drove a little tractor that had a cage around it, but then all of my friends would just show up at the golf range and try to hit me with the golf balls. I worked two hours and got $10 an hour.
11. What’s currently on your playlist?
Kota the Friend. It’s like pop meets hip hop, for lack of a better term.
12. What show are you currently binge watching?
I don’t really watch any shows. My wife would say she’s watching “Stranger Things,” but the only show I binge watched was during quarantine and it was winter, so Huddle was obviously slow. I watched “Ozark.” I had nothing else to do.
13. Three things you can’t live without?
It sounds cheesy, but my son, my wife, and my friends.
14. Dream vacation destination?
We just booked a vacation to Maui in October. We’ve been there for our honeymoon, but that is a pretty dreamy vacation. There, or we really want to go to Denmark.
Local Love Questions…
15. Your current favorite local spot for a good meal?
Shamrock in downtown Utica. It is a bar and restaurant, and all they serve is hamburgers, sandwiches, and fries. It’s the best burger around! There’s no thrills — you order before you even sit down, and it’s a fun environment. Your burger comes on a paper plate, but the simplicity is the charm of it.
16. Your favorite place to shop locally in Metro Detroit?
My wife would say Boro — they’re actually right on the same block as Collect in Eastern Market. It’s a resale shop that our friend owns. For me, [my favorite place] is Good Neighbor. It’s right around the corner from Huddle. I ever need to buy anything I go there.
17. Your go-to for a good cup of coffee?
I love The Red Hook in West Village. I go there too often!
18. Favorite thing to do on a weekend in Metro Detroit?
Swimming on Belle Isle. In the summer, we love swimming. It doesn’t matter where.
19. What do you love about Detroit?
Everyone is “in it” for the same reason. At the end of the day, a lot of business owners, whether it be clothing or restaurants or ice cream, have the same mentality: We’re all supporting each other and trying to do the best that we can. In other cities it seems like you don’t even know who your neighbor is or who the person running the business down the street is.
20. Favorite quote or words to live by?
“It is what it is.” And that’s a good one when it comes to chocolate, vanilla, and twist, because that’s it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and tone.