Volume 17 • Issue 15 | SEPTEMBER 3 - 10, 2004

Where the flavor of Asia is served up ice cold

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio
The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Banned from being eaten in public places in many Asian countries because of its stinky smell, the sweet, custard-like durian fruit may soon be the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s next star flavor, adding to the family-run business’ mix of 40 homemade traditional and Chinese ice creams such as taro, coffee Brandy, pumpkin pie and lychee.

Chinatown natives Philip and Henry Seid, whose parents emigrated from China’s Canton province in the early 1900s, opened the store at 65 Bayard St. between Elizabeth and Mott in 1978. Twenty-six years later the Seids’ children are now adding fresh fruits to homemade ice creams and developing new flavors that expose customers to exotic tastes and connect others to their Asian roots. A recently published book on ice cream, “Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop on America’s Favorite Treat,” included the Seids’ store in a listing of the 550 best ice cream parlors in the United States.

“We wanted to bring something different to the community that was a fusion of Chinese and American,” said Christina Seid, Philip’s daughter, who along with her sister, Kathy, helps run the store. Christina spends three days a week, nine hours each day making gallons of ice cream, flavors like ginger, red bean, green tea, and the most popular—lychee.

In Chinese culture the lychee is a symbol of romance and love, desired by royalty and written about by historians and poets. The fruit has always been the store’s most popular flavor, Christina said, because it is considered an expensive and hard to find delicacy in the United States. “It’s a luxury and reminds people of home,” she said.

Unlike other ice cream parlor owners, who Christina said use mainly wholesale, packaged ingredients in their ice creams, the Chinatown store uses only fresh ingredients—ripe, chopped up strawberries for the strawberry ice cream and soft, mashed avocados for the newest buttery-sweet avocado ice cream. “A lot of cooking is involved,” she said. “A lot of work goes into it.”

This year, the Seids will try to create a flavor from the durian fruit, despite its pungent smell. “We have a huge clientele that’s Filipino who would love to see it as a flavor,” Christina said. She also plans to develop a black sesame ice cream in the coming months.

In addition to ice cream, the store also offers sorbet in flavors like tangerine and mango-papaya, a variety of toppings and homemade sauces such as red bean. Ready-made ice cream cakes are available in three combinations—lychee, red bean and mango, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, or green tea, lychee and red bean. Chocolate-covered almond cookies are also for sale. A regular ice cream cup or cone costs $2.75. The Seids sell their product wholesale as well, stocking local restaurants like Sweet-N-Tart, the Tangerine Bar and Restaurant and Lower Manhattan’s Millenium Hotel.

Christina’s father and uncle are currently renovating the store, which is open during repairs, by revamping the storefront, laying a new floor and installing track lighting inside. Philip and Henry installed the store’s plumbing, among other projects, when they opened the business in 1978. “My dad and his brother are in their fifties, and they still demand to do it themselves,” Christina said. “I guess it keeps them going.”

Also new to the store is a marketing internship, which Christina created last year and hopes to repeat next summer. This summer’s intern, a future business owner of her own, researched the competition’s flavors, store set-ups and marketing techniques. “We then went through the motions of how she would start her own business,” Christina said.

The Seids have considered expanding their narrow store so they could include chairs and tables for patrons, but would have to leave their current building on Bayard St.—the space is just too small to enlarge, Christina said. So for now, tourists and regulars from across New York can enjoy their cones on the small stoop outside the store or while strolling through the streets Chinatown.

“When Chinese people from all over the five boroughs come to Chinatown, we’re a stop on everyone’s dessert list,” Christina said. The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, at 65 Bayard St., is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

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