There’s a lot to love about Dear Bella Creamery—its pink shop in Los Angeles, its unique plant-based ice cream, the fact that it just launched nationwide shipping so people outside Los Angeles too can try their sweet creations (more on that later)—but the thing that jumps At me after interviewing the enthusiastic and intelligent women behind the brand is the friendship that lies at the root of it all.
Alice Cherng and Belinda Wei are the founders of Dear Bella Creamery, a premium, all-natural, vegan ice cream shop based in Los Angeles. Cherng worked as an accountant for many years before following her passion and working as a chef at a vegetarian restaurant called Cafe Gratitude. There she met Wei (who was an executive pastry chef at the time) and their friendship began. They have so connected with their common Taiwanese heritage and the fact that they are both vegetarians that they have tried all the restaurants and vegetarian dishes around the city. At the time, vegan ice cream (especially good vegan ice cream that goes beyond basic flavors and syrups) was hard to come by, and they saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market.
Dear Bella Creamery started in Wei’s home kitchen, and over the course of six months the pair performed more than 60 tests to master their vegan ice cream base. Cherng and Wei were both working full time and then envisioned Dear Bella Creamery as a weekend project where they would serve homemade ice cream from a cart and see what happened. Instead, Cherng’s girlfriend told her about a vacancy next to the restaurant they own. The brick-and-mortar ice cream shop wasn’t part of their original plan, but they decided to check out the space anyway and ended up signing a lease. “It was totally unplanned,” Cherng told me. “We weren’t quite prepared and did everything by hand, but somehow ended up opening our little ice cream shop just three months after getting the keys.” The rest, as they say, was history.
A lot has happened since Dear Bella Creamery first opened its doors in April 2017. They’ve developed a fan following of delicious vegan ice cream, launched local delivery this month, and have plans to open a second location in Costa Mesa, California, in June. Shipping ice cream across the country isn’t cheap, but Cherng and Wei see it as a way to bring AAPI flavors to the mainstream market and get ice cream into the hands of fans who don’t live near a scoop shop. “People all over the country and even the world are asking us all the time if we can open a shop near them, but opening an ice cream parlor is very expensive and time-consuming,” Cherng said. “We felt that the only possible way to get our products to people outside of Los Angeles was through shipping.” Not only do their customers demand it, but Cherng and Wei feel that even in a market as saturated as ice cream, Dear Bella Creamery is unique: interesting flavors, handcrafted, dairy-free (and largely gluten and nut-free), all Natural and not artificial ingredients. “I think we have a great product that you just can’t find in grocery stores,” Cherng said.
Speaking of flavours, Dear Bella Creamery has a lot of fun and creativity. These include Cookie Monsta, an all-time favorite who gets his hue from blue spirulina, Taiwanese pineapple cake, an ice cream version of the popular dessert from Wei’s father’s hometown of Taichung, Taiwan (and her favorite flavor), and Coffee Chip, a favorite flavor of Cherng of coffee ice cream, chopped chocolate and mini chocolate chips. All ice cream, fillings, and toppings (like the hot fudge, sunflower butter cups, and chocolate-covered “honeecomb”) are made from scratch and are gluten-free.
For Cherng and Wei, inspiration comes from many places. “Alice and I are constantly going out and trying new restaurants, or revisiting restaurants with new items on the menu,” Wei said. At a recent dinner, a woman who bakes cookies told them that one of their most popular flavors was white chocolate peanut butter, and Cherng Wei told them to add it to the list of potential flavors to try. “We have a running list of about 300 different ideas,” Wei said. They also get flavor ideas from trade fairs, see new products on supermarket shelves and their Asian heritage.
After five years in the business, a lot has changed: they changed their business branding, sharpened their business acumen, and they became more targeted and focused in telling their stories about the company and its products. Some things, such as the commitment to deliver a quality product to its customers, have remained the same despite supply chain challenges and pricing issues caused by the pandemic. “Our mission, the reason we started this business, has not changed,” Cherng said. “We want to use ice cream as a means of communication, and that includes not only our customers, but our employees as well. We want to inspire moments of connection and joy.”