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Taiwanese-American best friends, Alice Cherng & Belinda Wei, are the co-founders of Dear Bella Creamery: a vegan ice cream shop located in Hollywood. Through their friendship, eating out together, Belinda’s culinary background and Alice’s business mindset, it was just a matter of time before they started a vegan business together. Below, they give us the inside scoop on their journey.
I’d like to start by diving right into who you are. What was it like for you to construct your own multicultural identity in the U.S.?
AC: “I moved to the U.S. from Taiwan when I was 8 years old, without knowing a single word of English. I was in ESL for a couple of years. I distinctly remember being bullied during my early school days – it was really painful. I'm also the eldest child, so I had to figure out everything on my own. And, of course, my parents didn't speak English either, so they could but also couldn’t relate.
What I learned and what has now become a strength of mine, is that I'm able to adapt and blend in anywhere really quickly. But I think the flip side of that is creating this wall, this shell, that took me a long time to break through as an adult. I think that's just part of being an immigrant. The Asian American identity that I’ve built for myself is one I'm very proud of. It's something I instill into my daughter too. It's really important to me that I speak only Chinese with her, and when she's a little older I'm going to take her to Taiwan and show her where I came from. It’s funny because when I go back to Taiwan, I stick out like a sore thumb. So I’ve ultimately found my identity in this blend of two cultures, and I now embrace both.”
BW: “I was born and raised in Texas. I definitely struggled with my identity as an Asian-American chef. On one hand, I wanted to properly represent my roots through food; on the other, I had no experience in that, other than seeing my mom cook and prepare all of this amazing food each night (which was definitely the driving force behind me pursuing a career in the culinary world). My parents did everything they could for us to live an ‘American life,’ but I felt my heritage shrinking with every bite of steak, every sip of Coke, and every scoop of Blue Bell ice cream I had. Thankfully, my experience in the industry and most of all, my friendship with Alice, has taught me to use food to reconnect with my culture. Eating and cooking more traditional Chinese dishes is my favorite way to honor my multicultural identity.”
I'm interested in how concepts like family and home play into the ideology of the creamery.
BW: “Growing up in Texas, one of my fondest memories with my family is going out for ice cream every Friday. We went to our local ice cream shop called Brahms. Anytime anyone was struggling, those Fridays were always something we’d look forward to. It was so special that ice cream could provide a sense of comfort and safety for us, even during the darkest of times. So creating that type of environment for our customers is always something we’ve worked towards. Knowing that this is a place that we would want to take our families to and enjoy a really premium quality product is so important to us.”
AC: “In terms of opening an ice cream shop, the first spark of inspiration for me was when I was dating my husband, a lot of our dates ended at an ice cream shop. It's where we developed a deep connection and essentially built our love. Like Belinda said, we wanted to curate that kind of space for people, especially those that may not consume conventional dairy products. In building our creamery, the idea was always to create a space that was safe, whimsical, family friendly, and inviting. Those things are reflected in our decor, in our flavors and in the overall design. It’s all very intentional.”
What was the process of opening up this creamery like?
BW: “About eight years ago, when Alice and I would go out for ice cream or dessert, it was really difficult to find vegan options. We were always on the lookout for something decadent and classic, but all we could find was sorbet. So, just knowing that there was this gap there, we were able to really lean into that and just started experimenting with some ingredients and seeing what we could come up with. My experience really comes from a culinary background, so being able to put things together and know the balance of flavors. Understanding the technique behind everything, is where I really come in.”
AC: “It was very obvious to me that restaurants that were offering both vegan and conventional products were doing better, but it was just so against our principles and what we believed in to do both, so we had to make it all vegan. As Belinda said, after building our friendship we discovered that together, we have the skill sets to open up an ice cream shop. In terms of choosing LA as our hub, it was just this serendipitous moment, where we just took an opportunity that was presented to us. Luckily, it worked out.”
What really differentiates you from other ice cream shops is your focus on bringing in Taiwanese flavors. What does Taiwan taste like to you? What flavors were you raised with and how are those embedded in the ice cream flavors you offer?
AC: “Because Taiwan is where I’m from, to me it tastes like warmth, home and comfort. But when we talk about Chinese food in the greater sense, it’s very complex – it’s known to be ancient and uses a lot of spices. What distinguishes Taiwan from the other parts of China, is that our flavors are more subtle and balanced, in my opinion. The style is very homecooked, nothing fancy, which is why we’re known for our street food. The food is simple but done very well, with good ingredients and a perfect balance of flavors.
At the creamery, we offer 16 flavors at any given point and we really make a point to offer at least two, if not more, Asian-inspired flavors. That's just part of our identity now. It's important for us to use our platform to introduce some of these Asian flavors to people that may not have the exposure otherwise. What's unique about what we do is that we take something authentic and put our own spin on it so it becomes more of a fusion.”
BW: “The only time I got to experience Taiwanese food growing up, was at home or when we would travel back to Taiwan every now and then. When I was visiting, I definitely made a connection through food, because it’s instinctively so comforting to me. In terms of how we incorporate those feelings into the flavors we offer, it’s a very intentional and thought out process because we try to translate a warm hug, for example, into ice cream. Our Black Sesame ice cream has layers of sweet and savory, earthy and umami, but it’s also very delicate and unique. Being able to have such flavors available for people who are curious about the culture is really special. We want to make sure that we do it right, so our ingredients are sourced directly from Asian markets and we use premium products.
We also offer a Taiwanese Pineapple Cake flavor, which has become really popular. It's a very common and traditional Taiwanese/Chinese gifting pastry that you bring to celebrations or even when you're visiting a friend, as a sign of hospitality. They’re these shortbread cakes with flaky crusts around buttery pineapple jam. It’s all very stuck together so it's got a little bit of a chew to it when you bite in.
I grew up eating that and my dad actually is from the city that the cake originates in. So, the way that we translate that into ice cream, which is basically how we make any source of inspiration tangible, is that we incorporate pieces of the actual hero product into the ice cream itself. We spread layers of the shortbread cookie and pineapple jam throughout, so you get generous mouthfuls of the cake. I believe it’s my job as an Asian-American chef to bring these flavors to a bigger audience. If we were to just focus on American flavors, it would be a disservice to the public, depriving them of what we love about ourselves.”
Want to try out some vegan, Taiwanese-inspired ice cream flavors? Check out Dear Bella here.