THE SCOOP ON WONG’S ICE CREAM
The scoop on Wong’s Ice Cream’s unique flavours
“This business changes you. It really does,” says Wong’s Ice Cream owner Ed Wong, who at age 50, is three short years into his ice cream-making career.
“If you ask my friends, they’ll probably tell you I’m a ‘glass is half empty’ kind of guy. But I got to the point where I was joking with friends saying, ‘If you need therapy, don’t do it. Get an internship at an ice cream shop. It will be better.’”
After decades in the corporate world, Wong spent two years co-running Hamilton’s Henry Brown’s Small Batch Ice Cream Company, where he discovered the sweet life really agreed with him.
“I found that that was, like, the happiest place you could possibly be. In the two years I was there, I had probably five bad customer experiences. Everybody else is just cheerful and happy because it’s ice cream.”
Now, Wong finally has an ice creamery to call his own. Wong’s Ice Cream (617 Gerrard East, at Broadview, 416-778-8883, wongsicecream. com), located in a tiny storefront on a strip dominated by family-run Vietnamese and Chinese businesses, is a one-man operation dedicated to churning out novel, Asian-inspired flavours like purple ube, chocolate yuzu and black sesame with salted duck egg.
During Wong’s time at Henry Brown, he found that Asian-fusion flavours like Hong Kong milk tea, and left-field mind-blowers like buttered popcorn, were among the most rewarding to create. But the commute from Greenwood Ave. to Hamilton was “just killing me,” he says, so he began looking for space closer to home.
“The economics were just good in this neighbourhood, compared to Queen Street and the other popular neighbourhoods,” he says of the decision to set up shop at Broadview and Gerrard.
“And then, there’s the fact that it’s Chinatown, with a history that I’m familiar with, cuz a lot of the history here is similar to my family’s Chinese history. I hear a lot of the same dialects and I see a lot of the same customs and culture.” He took his cues from both his background and the area when thinking up new flavours, borrowing the salted duck egg yolks from Chinese mooncakes for his breakout black sesame flavour and grating up real ube – instead of relying on extract – for their ube ice cream. He’s been run off his feet since opening in mid-June, so it’s safe to say locals are taking to Wong’s flavours – the older locals, anyway.
“My toughest customers are the kids. They’ll tug on their dad or mom’s clothes and be like ‘Can you ask if they have vanilla?’” Their parents’ solution is usually to slide them a scoop of rosewater white chocolate jasmine.
“You’ll see the parents say ‘How about this? It’s vanilla!’ And then look at me, like, ‘Don’t say anything.’”
Chocolate yuzu and lemongrasslime sorbet also tend to go over well with the six-and-under set.
Rounding out the product offerings are Filipino baked goods from Tito Ron’s, who shares the space with Wong’s; baker Tristen Petate is in the back most days, turning out ube pies and cookies topped with melted White Rabbit candy.
“We have so much of the same vision, I think, in terms of bringing Asian stuff onto the market,” Petate says – mixing traditional flavours with something more modern.
That fits in neatly with what might be Wong’s bigger, loftier goal for the new space. The corner is set to welcome Soul Chocolate’s new shop and a wine-and-cheese spot, among other new arrivals, and Wong seeks to bridge that gap, honouring the area’s history while helping usher in a new era for the changing neighbourhood.
“The way I see it,” he says, “it’s sort of a reimagination of an older Chinatown that’s in need of a reimagination.”