During a trip to New England, Cheng Lui was inspired to open an ice cream store. He had originally traveled there to research commercial fishing and boat building when he came across a trailer that was selling good-quality ice cream next to a freeway. After his visit, Liu kept thinking about the ice cream and eventually decided to open the Cookies & Cream shop in South Pasadena in 2013.
“When the culture of something is dying, you want to be there before the culture disappears,” Lui said. “I have always been in the food business, owning and working in restaurants, bakeries and cafes — the only thing I hadn’t done was an ice cream shop. When I opened my doors on Fair Oaks six years ago, there wasn’t much around here so I wanted to attract more people to this area.”
What sets Cookies & Cream apart from other ice cream stories is the menu, which features close to 30 homemade flavors. Daily flavors include purple lavender, taro, black sesame and peppermint brownie, while limited-edition latest creations range from matcha and horchata to Captain Crunch and honey peach. The most popular flavor is the Heavenly, which features a combination of taro, sea salt, caramel and homemade toffee.
“We’re a small shop, so I like to create unique things,” Lui explained. “I like to educate people on flavors that they have never had the chance to try. I don’t want to offer the same flavors that you can find anywhere else. I enjoy serving and creating, and we are always adding new flavors because we’re constantly experimenting.”
Other treats on the menu include freshly baked cookies, ice cream cookie sandwiches, vegan ice cream, boba drinks, milkshakes, a Taiwanese sundae that has red bean and fruit toppings, a taro mochi waffle, as well as tea floats — Lui’s unique take on traditional root beer floats. Monday through Friday, the shop offers an afternoon boba tea special, which is popular among the local middle and high school students that pass by when walking home.
The ice cream isn’t the only charming aspect of Cookies & Cream. The shop also features an array of fun art displays, ranging from cow drawings to the colorful menagerie of stuffed animals that grace one of the walls.
“The stuffed animals are a tribute to the late contemporary artist, Mike Kelley, who lived in South Pasadena,” Lui pointed out. “A lot of his work in museums features plush animals, so I collected some and asked my customers to bring in their unwanted stuffed animals. Everyone contributed and the wall was created.”
The cow drawings, which decorate the walls and front entrance were created by Lui and his niece, Anna Jung. Lui said the cow art is an ode to cows, whom the cream comes from. Various art pieces and paintings also hang on the walls, which were left over from the art shows that Lui used to hold in his store.
Occasionally he hosts open mic nights for local comedians who want a space to practice performing in public. Every New Year’s Eve, Lui holds his annual float watch party — a tradition that began five years ago.
“When I was first here, I saw an old couple on New Year’s Eve sitting in their car outside late at night,” Lui said. “It was very cold so I invited them inside to stay warm. When I asked why they were sitting in their cars, they said that since they got married, they always come here to watch the floats being towed up the street on their last stop before the parade. Ever since, I open my doors to food and ice cream for them, along with anyone else who wants to come and hang out here on New Year’s Eve.”
Jung, who has worked at Cookies & Cream since it first opened, added, “I like meeting the wide variety of people that come in here — you can’t really get that experience anywhere else. Our customers come in because they like the atmosphere and environment. My uncle brings art and food together to offer a unique experience for everyone.”
Cookies & Cream is located at 1010 ½ South Fair Oaks Ave. in South Pasadena. It is open Tuesday – Thursday from 3 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 2 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday from 2 to 9:30 p.m., and closed on Monday. For more information, call (626) 695-3547.
Cookies & Cream Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 11.15.19. Support Local Business.