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626 Hospitality Group honors Asian culture with unique soft serve, welcoming space

Co-founders Waldo Yan (left) and Amber Tan (right) pose for their portrait. 626 Hospitality Group aims to blend Asian culture with frozen dessert. (Courtesy of Jung Euy Park)

By Puja Anand

May 27, 2024 12:12 p.m.

This was updated June 30 at 7:23 p.m.

626 Hospitality Group is healing cultural divides with its frozen treats.

Based in Arcadia, California, the soft serve shop aims to bring Asian flavors to the forefront while redefining the meaning of hospitality. Amber Tan, a co-founder of the shop, said she and UCLA alumnus Waldo Yan got into the food industry to honor Yan’s late mother and the family restaurant she ran. Though they had to close the family shop due to unfortunate turbulence during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tan said they devised the idea of an ice cream shop and ultimately opened their own store in 2023. Yan said they chose Arcadia due to its proximity to their hometown, San Gabriel, California, which aided their goal of bringing people together with food.

“We wanted to make sure to open up shop in our home neighborhood because at the core of what we’re trying to do is use food as a medium for people to gather and enjoy each other’s company,” Yan said. “So if we’re just trying to facilitate a good time for others, we could think of no better place to start than our home neighborhood.”

[Related: UCLA alumnus sweetens up ‘For You’ page with aesthetic baking content]

The shop’s name holds special significance – 626 is San Gabriel’s area code, which is an ode to their upbringing in the area, Yan said. He added that they hope to represent their childhood culture, specifically taking care of people, bringing in the hospitality facet of their name. Beyond the demands of the service industry, they hope to make people feel seen and appreciated every time they walk through their doors, he said. Rather than simply feeding people, Tan added that they strive to express their love and gratitude for the customers. Yan said they aim to make an impression on people, not as a quality store but as a team ready to invest time and energy into the people who visit it.

Approaching hospitality through various lenses, Yan said he takes great care to ensure their products are consistent in their taste and quality so customers are privy to the same experience each visit. Furthermore, their team-oriented mindset extends the same care to the people that bring the shop to life, as Tan said they are dedicated to moving toward their dreams as a family. Therefore, from customers to team members, she said they aim to treat everyone with the respect and care they deserve.

Yan added that individuals working in the hospitality industry are often neglected, faced with demanding hours that impact their physical and mental health. Thus, their mission includes creating a more equitable working environment where workers can make space for self-care while taking care of others, he said.

“Every single one of us on the team is conscious of the amount of work it’s going to take to make a shift in the industry, even if it’s just for our isolated team,” Yan said. “We’re willing to put in the work to make sure that our futures are not just a little bit brighter but spent together.”

Yan said the reciprocal relationship between customers and the team they have carefully cultivated is key to their success. The excitement they express in serving incoming people is mirrored in the customer’s behavior, translating into gratitude and support for the shop, he said. Instead of presenting a merely transactional experience, he said the rare mutual respect for the shared space makes the store stand out. Given the volatile restaurant environment in Los Angeles, where several major restaurants have been forced to close down, he added that the support of customers makes all the difference.

In line with staying true to their roots, Tan said the decor and marketing brings recognition to the prior owners of the shop. As third-generation owners, they have featured old registers and ice cream machines as a way to bridge the old and the new while celebrating the legacy that came before them, she said. The creative marketing head, Jungeuy Park, said the store features portraits of the previous owners alongside their own as a way to remember the history of the place. Furthermore, he said he took inspiration from the aesthetics of ’80s Hong Kong films to reproduce the comforting aura of a grandmother’s house in China. Tan said the decor style hopes to instantly transport customers to an atmosphere exuding love and the feeling of community.

[Related: The sweet success story of alumnus-founded business First Bite Cookies]

In curating their ice cream selection, Yan said his vision is to introduce Asian flavors to the mainstream market. He said he draws from his memories of childhood and the food that embodies his upbringing, showcasing traditional Asian flavors while leaving room for interpretation. He added that the flavors speak to people with similar experiences alongside those curious to try something new. Striking a balance between the past and the present, Yan said the flavors capture the intersection between childhood nostalgia and the modern adult palette.

“We want to celebrate flavors that we were lucky enough to grow up with, and showcase them with more people who are either looking to learn about them for the first time or explore something that maybe they had forgotten,” Yan said.

For instance, he said their lychee strawberry sorbet’s strawberry undertone appeals to the American audience while incorporating lychee, a fruit familiar to Asian Americans. He added that the team doesn’t shy away from exploring lesser known flavor profiles, even if they present as less appealing than the mainstream. They hope to bring Asian flavors that they hold close to their hearts into the limelight in American consumerism, Yan said. Their selection holds a range of flavors, including dairy-free options for customers who are lactose-sensitive, Tan said. The team carefully thinks through their offerings to gratify people and palettes from every walk of life, she added.

“We’re hoping that whenever a guest comes in – whether they can’t do dairy, whether they really love dairy or if they’re looking for something a little bit more approachable, a little bit more adventurous – there is ideally something for everybody,” Tan said.

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Puja Anand
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