Phoenix is home to a wide array of food trucks; these are their stories. To read the last installment of the Phoenix Food Trucks series, click here.
Helen Yung witnessed the second plane crash into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I felt like I was in the middle of a movie,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
The events of 9/11 spurred Yung’s decision to make the most of life.
Eight years later, she was working at her artisan ice-cream shop Sweet Republic in Scottsdale when her co-founder, Jan Wichayanuparp, began serving the sweet creations at Phoenix’s Food Truck Fridays from an orange converted 1959 Chevy truck.
“There is not big mystery to our (business) name. It’s just a goal we have for starting on this journey and something that we hope our customers would also achieve ‘a sweet life in this Arizona republic,’” Wichayanuparp said in an email.
The Sweet Republic shop opened in 2006.
Yung creates all of the artisan ice cream as the ice-cream chef. She said her previous work at a San Fransisco restaurant instilled in her that “to have the best flavor, you have to use quality ingredients.”
Everything at Sweet Republic is crafted by Yung in the kitchen. She focuses on juxtaposing the ice cream based on texture, flavor or sweet-and-salty combinations.
“Ice cream itself is half art and half science,” Yung said. “My idea is contrast and balance is important. When it’s all the same flavor, it deadens the taste buds.”
Wichayanuparp is the chief ice-cream taster and advises Yung on the texture and flavor of each creation.
Yung said she enjoys seeing loyal customers come regularly. The store’s most popular flavor is Salted Butter Caramel.
Since Sweet Republic opened, it has been featured on 14 radio and television networks and more than 15 websites, and it has even hosted a marriage ceremony.
Food Network highlighted the store in a July airing of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Ice Cream.” “Iron Chef America” host Alton Brown called its Toffee Banofi sundae his “favorite ice-cream concoction” on the show.
The co-founders wanted to distribute their ice cream across the Valley. Wichayanuparp bought the 1959 Chevy off of Craigslist and had it remodeled and painted the bright orange it is today.
Yung and Wichayanuparp began attending First Fridays in 2009. Because they wanted to expand, they decided to attend Food Truck Fridays in 2010 and joined the Phoenix Street Food Coalition.
Because the truck is old, it frequently breaks down, which prevents the Sweet Republic co-founders from traveling to Phoenix as much as they would like. This is the only drawback among many benefits of participating in Food Truck Fridays, Wichayanuparp said.
“First of all, there’s the sense of community you get from seeing the same people every Friday sharing tables and from buying your food directly from the people who make it rather than an anonymous chain operation,” Wichayanuparp said in an email. “We are also big on connecting back to the people who grow the food, so to the extent possible the ingredients being served at Food Truck Friday are locally sourced.”
Wichayanuparp attends the event more often than Yung does, since Yung’s main work is in the kitchen. This is fine with Yung, as the truck has difficult brakes and no air-conditioning, which makes drives in the summer extremely hot.
When Sweet Republic does make an appearance on a Friday, Phoenix customers enjoy the original flavors.
Tricia Mercado, a 2008 ASU alumna, orders her favorite flavor, Salted Butter Caramel, at least once a month during the food-truck event.
“It’s like heaven. It’s light, and all the flavors complement each other,” Mercado said. “Everything you get is unbelievable. The fact that the make everything themselves is what makes it great.”
Michael Homan, a nonprofit leadership and management freshman, enjoyed a scoop of Real Mint Chip last semester during Food Truck Friday.
“There was a certain amount of freshness that you just don’t find in other ice creams. It is definitely a product that emphasizes quality over quantity which is quite admirable,” Homan wrote in an email. “They dedicate time and energy to each and every bite, so they make sure each one of those bites (is) enjoyable.”
Yung is “really happy with the success” and hopes to expand the store more. Sweet Republic ice cream is sold at the Phoenix Public Market, Whole Foods Market, Old Town Scottsdale and places on Mill Avenue in Tempe.
Kristina Zverjako, a broadcast journalism junior, traveled to Scottsdale 10 times for Sweet Republic’s Campfire S’more sundaes and homemade cookies. She was surprised at hearing about Sweet Republic’s presence at Food Truck Fridays and plans to attend in the future.
“Anything that is delicious and that I know about and that is close to me, I’m there,” Zverjako said. “Their ice cream has a wholesome flavor with a little spin on a regular flavor. There’s something there for everyone.”
Yung and Wichayanuparp originally met at Citigroup Inc., where Yung worked as an associate and Wichayanuparp as vice president.
The two quickly became friends and dreamed of one day owning a restaurant. They discussed how their co-workers “were stressed and unhappy” and wondered what they could do to make people happier, Yung said. Their solution was ice cream.
Yung left Citigroup in 2002 and attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Sydney, Australia. She moved to San Francisco in 2005 to work at Eccolo, a Cal-Italian restaurant.
After Wichayanuparp left Citigroup, her sister and brother-in-law persuaded her and Yung to move to Arizona to start their ice-cream business. The two were excited about the potential growth in the state.
Since 9/11, Yung has left a company, pursued her dreams and opened up an award-winning ice-cream shop. She does not regret leaving her job with a “paycheck with lots of numbers at the end” to pursue her love for food.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t look back much because there’s no reason to. I’m doing something that represents me,” Yung said. “I created a company versus being some person who shows up at work and no one knows. It’s cool to be in magazines and on TV to be recognized for doing something special to me.”
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