Just desserts: Ambitious business student opens ice cream parlor

by | Sep 19, 2016

In his senior year at UMSL, Van Liu will soon open Snow Factory and bring a taste of Thai-style ice cream to the Delmar Loop.
Van Liu at Snow Factory

During a special demonstration, Van Liu (at right) offered UMSL international students free samples of Snow Factory treats, including Thai-style ice cream and sparkling, fruit-flavored drinks. The visitors included (from left) Prachi Talwar, Kashyap Pallavi Anilkomar, Mengfan Tong, Yebo Hu and Bin Bin Huang. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Van Liu launched Snow Factory to bring an authentic taste of Asian ice cream novelties to the Delmar Loop.

“I grew up in Xiamen, China, right across from Taiwan,” said the University of Missouri–St. Louis business administration major. “It’s hot as the southern bay of California there. So that’s why there are a lot of ice cream parlors and places to get drinks and bubble teas.”

Liu moved with his family to Fairview Heights, Illinois, seven years ago, but he never forgot the tastes from growing up in China and the pleasure of a cool treat on a hot day.

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Over the course of a few weeks, Liu learned the techniques for making “pan-fried” ice cream.

While studying finance and international business at UMSL, he noticed a childhood friend had opened a Thai-style dessert parlor in New York City. His friend posted videos on Facebook of customers waiting in line up two hours and marveling at the shop’s unique “pan-fried” ice-cream making technique.

“Pan-fried” is made on a steel grill that is chilled to -35 °C. Ice cream base is poured onto the cold grill and mixed with fruit and other flavor mixtures crystallizing.

“There’s nothing like it in the Midwest,” said Liu. “That’s why I traveled to New York and convinced him to sell me the recipes and techniques for $35,000. I stayed in New York for 20 days to learn all of it, and when I came back to St. Louis, I practiced the cooking method in my house. Now I can tell you that all of our ingredients are organic, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s in it. We’re going to keep that a little bit secret, so that we’ll be unique.”

Liu figured the Delmar Loop would be a prime location for Snow Factory due to its walking traffic and proximity to UMSL, Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis. He waited three years for a viable space to open — and once it did, he seized his opportunity, immediately borrowing money from his parents to start his business idea.

Green tea ice cream at Snow Factory

Here, the green tea flavor is featured. All of Van Liu’s ice cream bases are made in-house with only organic ingredients.

“The first time I asked my parents for capital, they didn’t agree,” Liu said. “They thought I was playing at a game, so I took them to my friends ice cream shop and showed the lines and excited customers. They were like ‘Wow! This is great!’ and decided I could pursue this venture.”

To balance being both a new entrepreneur facing 10-hour days at his business and his last year of studies, Liu is taking all online courses. Once he graduates, he may decide to attend graduate school or continue developing his business. He credits UMSL for allowing him flexibility while completing his degree and the knowledge from his marketing courses that he is now putting to use.

“One idea from my marketing course that influenced me very much was the need to stay innovative,” said Liu. “If you’re not innovative, you’re just copying what others do, and it won’t be as successful or it will be a failure. If you try new things out and see what the trends are going to be from year to year, you’ll be successful.”

And on the note of success, Liu offers other new entrepreneurs advice learned from his parents, who are also restaurateurs, owning a few Shogun restaurants.

“My parents were generous enough to share the keys to success with me,” Liu said. “They said [to] know the background of what you’re doing to start a business. You have to know the technique, the customers and the trends first before you invest money. And once you start, keep updating the business and keep customers surprised. Always think about what you could do next.”

Media coverage:
Riverfront Times
KSDK (Channel 5)
Feast Magazine
Riverfront Times

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Ron Austin

Ron Austin

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