Variety the spice, halvah, Merlot of life at Max & Mina’s

Max & Mina's employee Jason Mars hands over a Ring Ding flavored ice-cream cone. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Anna Gustafson

For Max & Mina’s co-owner Bruce Becker, his Kew Gardens Hills ice cream shop is meant to be a stop along the less traveled path.

From the beer- and champagne-flavored ice cream to the colorful memorabilia plastering the walls and ceiling, including old photos of Queens and psychedelic Grateful Dead posters, Becker hopes his store gives customers a chance to branch out, even if it is for just five minutes while licking a scoop of halvah ice cream.

“Life is all about trying new things,” Becker said. “You come in here, and there’s corn on the cob ice cream, there’s Merlot ice cream. Don’t be afraid to try, with foods or in life.”

Since Bruce Becker, 42, and his brother, Mark Becker, opened Max & Mina’s at 71-26 Main St. in Kew Gardens Hills in 1998, they have created more than 4,000 kosher flavors, many of which they sell to restaurants, including London Lennie’s in Rego Park, and across the city. They have accumulated a devoted following of celebrities, neighborhood residents and students from nearby Queens College and St. John’s University.

Pictures of the brothers with people like Diane Sawyer, Betsey Johnson, Al Roker and Ellen Barkin line the walls. The store seems perpetually swamped by residents from the large Orthodox Jewish neighborhood while Queens College students recently came to Max & Mina’s to see if they would be able to withstand eating the shop’s spicy peanut butter flavor for an hour with no water.

Recently the shop, which is named for the Beckers’ grandparents and has been featured on the Travel Channel, was the answer to a question on “Hollywood Squares,” and landed a spot in Reader’s Digest’s upcoming Best of America issue for its “breakfast bash” ice cream flavor that combines maple walnut ice cream, pancake and French toast pieces and confectioners’ sugar.

The Beckers routinely create flavors for events around the city and recently worked with officials from the New York Food Film Festival to make an ice cream — chocolate chip pancake — that will be offered at the festival.

George Motz, the film festival’s director, calls Bruce Becker the Picasso of ice cream in a film on Max & Mina’s that will debut June 25 at 9 p.m. at the Water Taxi in Long Island City.

For many of the unusual flavors, the Beckers will physically add the various ingredients to the ice cream. For example, when Motz’s daughter wanted ice cream with Ring Dings in it, the brothers mixed the pastries into the ice cream.

“It’s exciting being able to create all these different flavors,” Bruce Becker said. “It’s wide-open what will happen next.”

The Beckers, who were raised in Nassau County, had grown up hearing about making ice cream from their grandfather, Max Becker, a chemist whose diploma from Columbia University hangs on the shop’s wall and who made ice cream as his hobby. Mina, Max’s wife, was an “expert ice cream taster” for her husband, and the pair’s grandsons said they always knew they would eventually want to professionally offer what their grandparents had done for fun.

As for their future, Bruce Becker said he believes customers will continue to come to remind themselves that there is always something a little more different than vanilla.

“There are no guarantees in life,” he said. “What I will guarantee is this will take you down a road you’ve never been before. And you want that. To have the same thing over and over, that’s not how to live.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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