Nicholas Huang may be just 25, but he says "you could definitely call me the ice master of LA."
Indeed, the Monterey Park store he co-owns, Fluff Ice — which opened at Monterey Park's Atlantic Time Square a little more than one year ago — is now selling more than 200 cups a week of a Westernized twist on Taiwanese shaved ice. Eater LA asked "Could Fluff Ice become the Pinkberry of shaved ice?" And the Fluff Ice truck has hit the mobile market with a bang.
But Fluff Ice is just one of the newest players in the San Gabriel Valley's long ice story, with more than a dozen varieties and stiff competition for the title of "ice master."
At Fruteria Huerta, it is all about Raspados, the Mexican adaptation of shaved ice. In particular, the spicy and tart “Diablito,” which literally means “little devil.” The name is derived from the somewhat hellacious qualities of the drink itself: homemade tart tamarind syrup, sliced ripe mango, crimson chamoy (a thick, sour apricot flavored sauce) sucked through a spicy, tamarind paste-covered straw.
At Noodle World, there is a Southeast Asian tinge to the icy treat. Sweetened coconut milk is splashed atop the jagged ice shards and you can choose to add fresh strawberry slices, with portions large enough to share.
And Aloha Factory has been shredding Hawaiian-style shaved ice since 1994. Hawaiian ice is cut unevenly to better absorb the specialty island syrups and all the sweetened red beans you can add.
Despite the local wealth of ice desserts, Huang, a Mark Keppel alum, said the idea for Fluff Ice came on a visit to family in Taiwan when he tasted a cross between frozen yogurt and shaved ice. It's there, he says, that he was "taught by the ice master of Taipei." He proposed the idea to three friends, and the four young entrepreneurs decided to bring a new East meets West version of shaved ice to their corner of the San Gabriel Valley — mixing in extra toppings and some fusion flavors from Nutella to Thai Tea.
With the high competition in the San Gabriel Valley, the four young entrepreneurs had to figure out a way to create a niche. With an average age of 25, they used their familiarity with social media and youth culture to tap into the young adult market, including the YouTube phenomenon "626" video about foods. In mid-February, they debuted the Fluff Ice Food Truck, which has routes near South Pasadena, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. Their truck was even named Food Truck of the Week by popular restaurant review site Zagat.
A second store is scheduled to open soon, and the team is planning to have at least three stores by the end of 2012 with dreams of, eventually, expanding to a national chain realizing the vision of a mainstream shaved ice. “My favorite part about working at Fluff Ice is being able to do what I want,” said Huang. “I feel like I am do something original and I just want to make it as big as possible on my own way.”