When she debuted her Asian-inspired ice cream truffles at farmers’ markets and festivals in the spring of 2015, ice cream lovers swooned over such unconventional flavours as Spicy Caramel Fuyu and Hong Kong Milk Tea. Within months, Liz Mok of Moo Shu Ice Cream was struggling to keep up with demand as restaurants also began requesting her unusual flavours for their dessert menus. Just one year into her business, she has made the bold decision to scale up, renting a shopfront in Centretown and buying kitchen equipment that will boost her production capacity by 16-fold.
City Bites Insider caught up with a very busy Liz Mok as she set up the kitchen equipment and oversaw the finishing touches to the nine-seat Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen at 477 Bank St.
You launched your business in the spring of 2015 with a small stand at the farmers’ market and one year later you’re about to open your own storefront. What a whirlwind.
I know! But there has been so much demand that we feel like we need to expand. We can’t keep up while we’re working out of a shared kitchen — plus ice cream is very temperamental, so owning our own equipment will allow us to control quality better.
So Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen will have its own kitchen in the back?
Exactly. I’m going to have a stove, a big fridge, a couple of freezers, and a huge ice cream maker. … Before I only had an ice cream maker with the capacity to produce 1L every 20 minutes. That’s fine for a restaurant, but too slow if you’re trying to produce commercial quantities. My new ice cream maker [a second-hand find from a Cold Stone Ice Cream store] can produce 8L every 10 minutes.
What does opening Moo Shu mean for the other aspects of your business — your participation at farmers’ markets and supplying to local restaurants?
Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up the farmers’ markets. Right now I supply two restaurants [Sen at Lansdowne and Tomo on the ByWard Market]. I’ve had lots of interest from other restaurants but I just don’t have the capacity to make enough ice cream. Having my own equipment in the store will let me work with more restaurants in the future.
Many readers will be surprised to hear that you don’t have any culinary training. You do have an industrial design degree. How does that help you run an ice cream business?
It’s incredibly useful. Industrial design teaches you to think through the whole process of creating — not just the final product. It’s a big challenge to scale up, but the things I learned in industrial design have helped me be better prepared.
Will customers be sitting in or taking out?
There are nine seats, but I picture lots of customers taking out cones and heading to nearby parks like the big one at the Nature Museum. I’ll be selling pints, ice cream truffles, and scoops in cones. I’ve developed a recipe for a fantastic gluten-free and vegan waffle cone…
Got the flavours sorted out?
Our freezer fits 10 tubs, though we’re planning to get a 12-tub freezer soon. So the plan is to have eight mainstay ice creams and a couple of seasonal options that are always changing. The regulars I’ll be scooping include strawberry; kefir lime and mint; ginger and vanilla bean; Hong Kong Milk Tea; black sesame; fruit loop cereal milk; vegan chocolate; and vegan mocha. …In the fall, I’m hoping to add some light Japanese snacks to the menu. Definitely o-nigiri. I think of this as the sandwich of Japan — picture a triangle of seasoned rice, wrapped in seaweed and with cooked seafood in the centre. Definitely miso soup will be on the menu. I’m not sure what else at this point.
I’ve heard rumours that you’ve got puppy ice cream on the menu?
I’m working on it. Most dogs are lactose-intolerant so ice cream isn’t that good for them. I’ve got a couple of flavours on the go — calf liver and Greek yogurt and a pumpkin puree. Don’t worry, they’re made in their own dedicated ice cream machine!
Why open in Centretown?
It’s close to home for me. But, more importantly, I think it’s an undervalued spot. There’s something happening here and I want to be part of that. This area is definitely growing, but it should have more independent shops. People are ready for it.
I love the orange-red on your sign and inside. Tell me about the design.
I’ve gone with orange-red with the other colours being white and black. The wood finishes are very neutral. I chose everything really quickly. We actually only started renovating in late May.
Start looking right at the end of June. I’m really hoping we can open ahead of Canada Day if the permits come through and the ice cream machine works like its supposed to when we plug it in.
And, just because you’re not busy enough, City Bites hears that you’ll also be running a pop-up booth at the big July 1st Dominion Day bash at Arts Court.
I know it’s crazy, but it was such fun last year when we did it. We’ll just fill up a freezer and go. I don’t even have the ice cream completely figured out yet, but I’m dreaming about a raspberry-rhubarb pie idea that would somehow use Dominion City’s Raspberry Rhubarb Saison.