By Michelle Matthews Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) At "Sno Dash", liquid ice cream base is poured onto a below-freezing surface where, in a mesmerizing process, mix-ins are added and blended with the thin layer of ice cream that is then neatly rolled and placed upright in a cup.
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
Lan Nguyen, a single mom, decided to start her own business so she could not only provide for her toddler but also spend more time with him than she would working for someone else.
She envisioned a place where she would bring him after school every afternoon.
The hard-working entrepreneur and fashionista already owned a Plato's Closet franchise in Dothan but, after doing some research, she decided an ice cream shop would be more fun for her son.
Last June, she opened Sno Dash Frozen Treats, specializing in rolled ice cream, in Dothan.
Named for her two-year-old son, Dash, Sno Dash was an instant success that grew exponentially every day. For the first two months, she says, there was often an hour-and-a-half wait for a cup of rolled ice cream.
"The crazy part is, people were willing to wait," she says.
The response to Sno Dash was so overwhelming, in fact, that Lan decided to bring the concept to her hometown of Mobile.
She opened Mobile's first rolled ice cream shop on Hillcrest Road on Sept. 28, and now plans to open a Sno Dash in Daphne on Jan. 15 and one in downtown Mobile in the spring.
"It's pretty to look at, delicious to eat and fun to watch," she says of rolled ice cream, which originated with street vendors in Thailand.
Lan first tried the trendy ice cream in Austin, Texas, where she earned a master's degree in finance at the University of Texas after graduating from Huntington College in Montgomery.
Customers choose their base flavor, one mix-in and two toppings, then watch as a Sno Dash employee makes their ice cream on a super-cold refrigerated plate. The liquid ice cream base is poured onto the below-freezing surface where, in a mesmerizing process, the mix-ins are added and blended with the thin layer of ice cream that is then neatly rolled with a metal spatula and placed upright in a cup.
"The concept is you watch it being made right in front of your eyes," Lan says.
After those initial days in Dothan with long waits, Lan figured out how to help her employees become more efficient. Now, she says, the longest wait in the west Mobile store is about 30 minutes on a Saturday night.
New locations The downtown location of Sno Dash will be operated by Maly Var, a friend of Nguyen's since they were in elementary school together in Bayou La Batre.
Lan and Maly also worked together as managers at Walgreens at one point in their careers. Maly has been working in the west Mobile shop to gain experience before her own shop opens on South Conception Street.
"The downtown store is a great fit for her," says Lan.
Maly had spent time teaching English in Korea and was thinking about going back there, or to China, when Lan told her about her plans for an ice cream shop. "She told me to come to Dothan and check it out, and I went the very next day," she says. "I asked myself which choice I'd regret more." She decided she would regret not going with Lan and Sno Dash.
Maly and Lan found the building at 12 S. Conception St. "by kismet," Lan says. "It's charming," says Maly. "You just know when it's right."
Contractor Brandon Fox of Fox Historical Renovation has worked for months to transform the space, even building the furniture. "He's doing some really cool things to stay true to the downtown feel, yet modern at the same time," Maly says.
Lan's soon-to-be brother-in-law, Cuong Huynh, is opening the store at 28600 U.S. Hwy. 98 in Daphne, where Papa John's used to be, on Jan. 15.
"I'm proud and honored to be local, to help my friends and family start out, to create a sustainable, fun-to-own small business and make a decent wage and support my family," Lan says.
Strong work ethic Her own parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when she was 4 years old. "My parents came here with $10 in their pockets, and sent all four kids to college," she says. "I was fortunate enough to have good grades and work hard. My work ethic came from them."
Lan's mother was five months pregnant when the family boarded a boat "a little larger than these two tables," she says, gesturing around the ice cream shop, for a harrowing journey across the Indian Ocean. Her parents wanted to create a better life for their family, and they knew their hard work would be rewarded in America.
"No decision in my life has been life or death," she says, in contrast to her parents. "Theirs was 'you fail, you die.' I couldn't fathom that decision. I never took their sacrifices for granted."
Likewise, Maly's parents immigrated from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Her dad calls her his "American baby," she says.
Another thing Lan and Maly have in common: They're both foodies who love to experiment with new flavors and products. "It's fun, because the product can be seasonal," says Lan, who's always creating new combinations such as pumpkin pie, red velvet or peppermint, depending on the time of year.
During the Greater Gulf State Fair in October, they created a pecan pie roll for an episode of The Cooking Channel's "Carnival Eats" with Noah Cappe. The show is set to air in its sixth season, sometime later in January or February.
Wherever Sno Dash opens, Lan has the same goal. "I want to be a neighborhood ice cream shop," she says. "After the newness wears off, my business plan is to be that."