With Awan ice cream, you get a taste of Indonesia via a walk-up window
Zen Ong wanted to reimagine Indonesian cuisine for Angelenos, and for a little over a year, he did so with Inda, an artful tasting-menu pop-up. The former E.P. & /L.P. pastry chef grilled and smoked mushrooms for vegan rendang. He fried flower-shaped kembang goyang crackers and topped them with roe, raw scallops and a rainbow of edible petals. He buried grilled sustainable fish under curried sweet potato leaves and statuesque wisps of crisped potato. The coveted tickets to Ong’s occasional pop-ups cost about $125, but now, the chef’s latest ode to Indonesian food can be found every Sunday afternoon for as little as $5 — and it’s passed to diners through a walk-up window in West Hollywood.
The new ice cream product, Awan — meaning “cloud” in Indonesian — is a little like its namesake: Ong tinkered with his plant-based dessert for years, finally unveiling its creamy gelato-like texture and cloud-white hue on Sept. 5. Made from Indonesian coconut cream and coconut water, plus vanilla beans imported directly from an all-natural farm in Bali, Awan is the newest outlet for Ong’s love of the Southeast Asian country. It’s also the culmination of years of recipe testing — which intensified as COVID-19 waylaid the chef’s plans to open a bricks-and-mortar version of Inda.
“I want people to experience something that can technically be considered foreign but also is nostalgic and delicious,” he said. “Indonesian food isn’t just street food anymore; you can have really high-quality products coming out of there — especially stuff coming out of Bali [with] very well-farmed products. It’s got great ecosystems.”
Awan, he says, was always going to happen — eventually —but COVID-19 upended Ong’s plans.
While the pandemic stalled progress toward opening Ong’s permanent restaurant, it helped forge an entirely new partnership, one that finally made Awan’s quarts and scoops possible. In early 2020, when restaurants closed on-site service, Ong tried to pivot Inda from in-person fine dining to a more casual, delivery-based meal kit, but without investors, he soon found it was unsustainable. To make ends meet he turned to cooking private dinners, including one series of meals that took place last fall. That’s how he impressed Dayglow Coffee founder Tohm Ifergan, who also was hired to work the events. They found collaboration and a new direction.
“The first day I showed up I was like, ‘I need to make granita,’” Ifergan said, “and [Ong] was like, ‘Good luck, there’s no freezer. Want me to help you with liquid nitrogen?’” (Ong, aware of how limited catering sites can be in terms of available equipment, usually brings some along with him to freeze food on demand.) Over the ensuing weeks they riffed and collaborated, inspired by one another’s creativity and work ethic.
Then Ong introduced Ifergan to Awan, and he was bowled over by the ice cream’s texture and the potency of the Balinese vanilla. Ifergan also was the first prospective business partner to immediately offer the resources and business savvy necessary to get the project up and running.
Ifergan — who now has two bricks-and-mortar Dayglow shops in Los Angeles and one in Chicago, plus a booming online sales setup — fell into coffee. A touring band musician for much of his professional life, he would taste his way through local varieties as he played across Europe and Asia.
In the meantime, when he was at home in Chicago, Ifergan worked as a line cook at various kitchens and began to learn more about coffee — its weights and measurements and methods. When he and his wife became pregnant with their first child, she implored him to find another line of work that wouldn’t keep him on the road. After a move to Los Angeles, they found a listing for the former Bardonna space, in Silver Lake, and in early 2018, he put the entirety of his savings into the rent and started Dayglow.
Chasing the caffeine discoveries that occurred while on tour, Ifergan subscribed to multiple international coffee delivery services but didn’t love them — and found he was spending too much money. He turned his own company into an importer, which now sources directly from international coffee farms. The online store offers access to all of them, and it exploded in popularity during the pandemic.
“We went from zero to 100,” he said, standing in an alcove attached to his coffee shop. “This whole room was nothing but boxes, and I was the only one there. My toddler was stuffing boxes with confetti.”
Dayglow’s direct-to-consumer operations quickly outgrew the space, and once he rented a larger office for packaging coffee beans and canned drinks, the entrepreneur knew exactly how to fill it. This summer, Awan took over a sliver of that office space, just off Santa Monica Boulevard, and the duo readied a walk-up window. They met with a design team and discussed the rollout: How would they launch Awan? How would they package it? Could they get it into Whole Foods or Erewhon? Could they eventually ship the frozen food around the country, drawing on Dayglow’s delivery experience?
They knew they wanted to focus on retail sales of cartons, as opposed to opening a simple scoop shop, and they wanted their hand-packed quarts to be an experience. They would announce flavors and presales days in advance, a little like a streetwear merch drop, to get people excited.
Ong and Ifergan are emphasizing advance sales online via enjoyawan.com, but they’re reserving a few quarts for day-of sales and, for those who just want a taste, scoops for $5, from noon to 6 p.m. every Sunday.
The “classic” will always be on offer, containing a little over one whole Balinese vanilla bean in each quart and serving as the base for every other flavor. New and farmers-market-inspired varieties will rotate in and out each week for scoops, with one additional flavor by the quart. At the launch, Awan served scoops churned with Harry’s Berries strawberries, Weiser Family Farms melons and Polito Farms oranges, among other seasonal produce. On Sept. 12, a version involving Valrhona chocolate will make its debut.
Eventually the duo hopes to offer signature drinks: affogatos using espresso from Dayglow next door, and perhaps Awan ice cream blended into a milkshake. For now it’s simply quarts and scoops of the Indonesian coconut-based dessert, and seeing how far they can grow the business — they’re thinking of retail in grocery stores and, possibly, a designated scoop shop or national shipping.
To Ifergan, who sells more plant-based coffee concoctions than dairy-based drinks, it feels like a natural progression when he considers his clientele’s tastes and his skills within the food realm. To Ong, it’s a signal of possibility in a changing culinary landscape.
Over the course of the pandemic the chef has watched restaurants fold and chefs pivot in innovative ways. Two of his friends and colleagues — Mei Lin of Nightshade and Daybird, and Max Boonthanakit, formerly of Nightshade, currently of Bangkok’s Blue by Alain Ducasse — have started successful chili crisp retail operations. Other chefs, Ong said, might want to follow suit, or at least explore the possibility.
“Chefs and other people in hospitality need to understand the economy behind this stuff because there are alternate ways of making money,” Ong said. “Eventually I want to open up that Inda restaurant [but] it’s a massive financial risk. A lot of time you don’t have equity because of investors and it ends up a whole situation, whereas meeting people like Tohm and meeting other people who’ve done successful direct-to-consumer products and packaged goods — even some of the canned coffees [from Dayglow] — shows you can do it.”
Awan, 866 Huntley Drive, West Hollywood, open Sundays from noon to 6 p.m., enjoyawan.com
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