Be it for Instagram or just to eat, people in NYC flock to dessert spots like little else. In the past two years alone, there has been a massive increase in the number of Asian dessert shops that have opened featuring rolled ice cream, bubble waffles, and ube… everything. Most compelling, though, are the founders behind them. All are young New Yorkers, many with a background in finance who decided that they wanted to pursue something more creative and fulfilling in partnership with their best friends. Ice cream became that channel, but each put a unique and Asian-inspired twist on the classic American dessert.
Taiyaki – Taiyaki is an inventive ice cream shop in Chinatown serving up various ice cream flavors in fish-shaped waffle cones. The owners, Jimmy Chen, Ricky Yang, and Tom Yang, all have their roots from Far East cities but were born and raised in NYC. Having met in college, they realized that each of them was able to further embrace their heritage and personal identity through food.
While vacationing in Japan, they stumbled upon taiyaki – a popular dessert consisting of fish-shaped waffles stuffed with red bean paste.
They decided to combine those classic Japanese taiyaki waffles with an American twist – adding ice cream. The shop sells flavors such as matcha and black sesame in doughy cones full of custard or red bean.
New Territories – Extravagant milkshakes and flavored bubble waffles? Count us in! New Territories, started by Peter Mei and George Tang in early 2017, is bringing artisanal ice cream and Hong Kong street foods together. Mei and Tang were childhood best friends who always dreamt of having the opportunity to open a business of their own, as both of their families were entrepreneurial. Mei was born in Hong Kong but later moved the United States, where he met Tang on the basketball courts in Chinatown. Mei later began to pursue a degree in finance.
Tang, however, has a background in cooking. More specifically, as a sous chef in New York City. Their childhood dream soon became a reality: they decided that the best business for them to pursue was to bring back Hong Kong staples and share them with New Yorkers. After studying the bubble waffle recipe in Hong Kong, New Territories was opened and named after a district in Hong Kong. They decided to add a twist – inventive flavors of waffles and Asian-inspired ice cream – to the childhood snack that Mei would get after school.
The waffles are available in classic, black ash, and black tea & rose flavors, and the choices for ice cream include ube, earl grey, and honeycomb. Plus, their milkshakes are inventive and super ‘gram friendly.
Milk & Cream Cereal Bar – If you’re a fan of cereal, this place is a must. Milk & Cream Cereal Bar features ice cream, milkshakes, and bowls of milk, with a plethora of cereal mix-ins and toppings available. Cory Ng, Tommy Leong, and Justin Siu started the spot in early 2017 after running a custom bike shop, Mott St. Cycle, in the same space.
After meeting in Columbus Park, Chinatown as kids, the three became inseparable. Together, they opened Mott St. Cycle in 2011 and maintained it until 2016. The shop, as Ng says, “ran it’s course” after there was a shift in the bike industry on both the manufacturing side and the consumer side. In 2016, though, Ng, Leong, and Siu didn’t have a plan of what to do next.
Surrounded by vacancies, they began acknowledging how rapidly Chinatown was changing and decided to change with it. Cha Cha Matcha and Two Hands opened across the street, both of which were thriving. With the influx of new money and vitality, Ng said that him, Leong, and Siu felt a restaurant was a more sustainable route to pursue in the neighborhood. After a brainstorming meeting, they landed on a cereal bar idea. It’s a nostalgic and fun food – not only for the three founders of Milk & Cream Cereal Bar, but for just about everyone else, too.
Channeling their inner kids, Saturday morning cartoons and eating dessert for breakfast included, it was decided that the shop was going to be fun, delicious, and would appeal to everyone. Ng says that cereal doesn’t get the love it deserves because it’s such a classic food, but he’s reinventing it. Their brand is cereal — and they certainly do it well.
Stuffed Ice Cream – Jackie Luu and Alan Yaung’s shop, Stuffed Ice Cream, serves in-house churned ice cream to put inside of their homemade, incredibly soft doughnuts to create their signature “cruffs.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, Luu and Yaung met playing handball and became fast friends. Yaung was a pharmacy technician at Duane Reade and began looking for a change in his career path. Neither had aspired to pursue an office job, so when Luu approached Yaung about opening a shop of their own, Yaung jumped at the chance.
They figured, “this would be the best time to do while we’re young and if it didn’t work out, we would still have time to bounce back and pursue something else,” Yaung told me.
Every single ice cream flavor Luu and Yaung have dreamt up is inventive – lavender white chocolate, cookie monster, Rice Krispie. Their doughnuts stay delicate and refreshing even with copious amounts of ice cream between them.
Soft Swerve – Soft Swerve’s unbelievably smooth, Asian-inspired ice cream flavors are perfect for your Instagram feed – especially the vibrant, purple ube flavor with fruity pebbles on top. Michael Tsang and Jason Liu, both native New Yorkers born and raised in Chinatown, started the shop in 2016.
Liu studied and worked in finance and Tsang pursued media. Tsang, after eating lunch on a hot in 2013, was craving mochi ice cream. The only place he was able to find it was in a pack of eight was a local Chinatown supermarket, “where I had to commit myself to an entire pack and had to carry it back to my office to eat. The ice cream was delicious but I found the whole process of purchasing it, finding a convenient location to eat it quite annoying… why was this not as enjoyable as I wanted it to be?”, Tsang remarked to me. The ice cream was melted, he had eight pieces to eat, and the flimsy cardboard container was not easily resealable. He said, “This event triggered something in me that made me think that I could totally open an ice cream store that served mochi ice cream. That same night, I went on Ebay and purchased the fanciest ice cream maker I could find and began working on recipes that following week.”
It wasn’t until 2016, though, that Liu approached Tsang and said he wasn’t happy at his job anymore. He asked their friends if anyone wanted to start a business, and since Tsang felt it was time for him to move on from his position at a community-development based non-profit, he remarked that he had a crazy idea to open an ice cream shop. “We kept working at the concept which went from mochi ice cream to funky waffle cones and finally decided upon doing soft serve ice cream which we both absolutely loved to eat but couldn’t find locally.” When the soft serve was perfected, they both decided to quit their jobs and devote their time to Soft Swerve.
The shop opened later in 2016 and has since attracted a flock of people with it’s uniquely thick soft serve and brightly colored cones.
10Below – Nestled in a snug space on Mott St., 10Below was the original rolled ice cream joint in NYC. Richard Tam, the co-owner and co-founder had the idea after watching a video of a Thai street vendor rolling ice cream and knew it was a concept he had to bring to the United States. And a good idea it was — it now seems as though rolled ice cream is everywhere.