First Look: Sweet Creams
Move over, bubble tea. Thai-style ice cream rolls have arrived in Hawai‘i.
Cookies ’n’ cream.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
This dessert has been popping up all over social media: Little rolls of ice cream, packed into cups and topped with everything from toasted coconut to gummy bears.
Ice cream rolls—or fried ice cream, as it’s often called in Thailand, where this originated—started to show up on menus of ice cream shops on the Mainland, from Cheló Creamery in City of Industry in California to 10Below Ice Cream in New York City.
Finally, it’s here.
Sweet Creams, which started as a pop-up last year, just opened a brick-and-mortar location at 1430 Kona Street. It specializes in this Thai frozen dessert that’s made by pouring sweetened milk on an iced steel grill and mixing it with fruits or candies. The creamy mixture hardens, and workers spread it across the super-cold, sub-zero surface, using metal spatulas to scrape sections into small cigar-shaped rolls. Those rolls are placed neatly into a cup and topped with whipped cream, syrups, cereal, fruits—really, whatever you want.
“We make everything fresh and right in front of you,” says Jeffrey Kao, 37, who owns Sweet Creams with his partner, Bari Carroll. “People compared us to Cold Stone (Creamery), but it’s different.”
Kao, a financial adviser, discovered ice cream rolls last year while researching fun activities to include for his daughter’s baby lūʻau. He came across a YouTube video of a street vendor making ice cream rolls in Thailand and thought, “I want that.” Since he found no one in Hawai‘i was making this frozen treat, he decided he would do it himself. He ordered the machines and started working on recipes for the milk base. (Unfortunately, the machines arrived the day after his daughter’s birthday party.)
“It was four months of trial and error,” Kao says, laughing. “I wanted something that was creamy but not too heavy, something that would hold up well enough to roll.”
He and Carroll began doing pop-ups in July 2016 at parties and weddings. They started with two flavors—strawberry shortcake and cookies ’n’ cream—and quickly garnered a following of foodies armed with smartphones and Instagram accounts who started asking Kao about a permanent location.
Last month, Sweet Creams took over the 525-square-foot space on Kona Street vacated by Ailana Shave Ice & Café. It quietly opened on Feb. 10, with fans finding out via social media. The grand opening is Saturday, Feb 18.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon—after lunch and before school let out—the line inside this small shop was nearly out the door. Every table was occupied with smartphone-toting patrons snapping pics of this elaborate dessert. Three workers—Sweet Creams employs 14—busily poured and chopped and scraped ice cream into rolls. Kao says he sells between 175 and 200 cups a day. And, so far, it’s all by word of mouth and Instagram.
The two original flavor are still the most popular on the menu. The strawberry shortcake includes fresh strawberries, topped with a house-made strawberry-milk syrup, a heap of Fruity Pebbles and a graham cracker. The cookies ’n’ cream is packed with Oreos and Cocoa Pebbles and adorned with a Choco Pocky stick. New to the menu are Pineapple 5-0 (with pineapple, coconut flakes, coconut milk syrup, shortbread cookies and li hing powder), frozen hot cocoa (with chocolate chips and marshmallows), Thank You Very Matcha (with azuki beans and coconut milk syrup) and Monkey ‘N Around (with Nutella, bananas, Teddy Grahams and Cocoa Krispies). Bowls are $7, $5 for keiki size.
You can create your own concoctions, choosing from three milk bases (original, hot cocoa and matcha), an ingredient to get chopped into the base, and three toppings. Custom bowls cost 50 cents more. Sweet Creams also serves freshly squeezed flavored lemonades ($3.95 each). Kao plans to add seasonal and monthly specials, using local ingredients—mango, lychee—when possible. And he’s experimenting with a nondairy base for those with lactose intolerance.
A steady flow of customers waited patiently in line. (It takes about two minutes to make one dessert.) Many were return customers who tried the rolls at a pop-up or party. Others just wanted to try what Instagrammers were raving about.
Though pricey, this dessert definitely live up to its social-media hype. The rolled ice cream stays frozen longer than soft serve and the toppings—particularly the cereals—add texture and fun to the dessert.
Plus, they really are photogenic.