To say Vyvy Hoang has the heavy schedule of a 22-year-old college student would be a seriously deficient characterization.
The full-time business student at UC Irvine gets up at 8 a.m. most days to make it to her 9 a.m. classes. Then, she makes her way to work in the early afternoons.
But she’s not the average student working a retail or restaurant jobto pay for tuition, textbooks or social events.
At 2 p.m. most days, she’ll open up Eiswelt Gelato, a Westminster gelato shop that she owns and operates. She has seven employees, and though her parents help some nights — they also stepped up initially financially — most of the time, the responsibility belongs to Hoang.
She’ll often have to tackle homework assignments or study from a back room during her shifts, which can last more than eight hours, when the store isn’t busy. It’s a balancing act that doesn’t seem to daunt the young entrepreneur.
The German native, who is of Vietnamese descent and moved to the United States in 2008, said she wanted to bring the gelato tradition to California. The name “Eiswelt” made perfect sense, she said, because the word means “ice world” in German.
She said the treat is popular in her home country, even though it originated in Italy.
"[In Germany] gelato is about a euro per scoop, so around here, I thought ice cream was pretty expensive at $5 or $6 a scoop,” said Hoang, who lives in Westminster. “I wanted to bring something cheaper over to my new home but still hold onto that tradition.”
A euro is roughly equal to the U.S. dollar.
Gelato is made with whole milk while ice cream is made with cream, she said. The textures can also be different, because gelato is kept at a warmer temperature than ice cream.
At age 20, Hoang began seriously thinking about opening her own gelato shop after being inspired by her parents, who owned an Asian market in Germany when she was a child.
Last year, at 21, she opened Eiswelt Gelato with the financial boost from her mother and father. The shop sells frozen treats shaped as cute characters and animals.
“I’ve always had the roots of business,” Hoang said, adding she wanted to bring a unique touch to her shop. “I wanted to do something new and create somewhere cute, where girls can hang out. Other ice cream shops, guys meet up on their motorcycles. But the guys get pretty excited over our gelato too. It’s pretty funny to watch.”
The frozen treats are scooped and then formed into pigs, teddy bears, dogs and characters like Pikachu from Pokémon, if requested. Special characters will also be created for holidays, like Jack Skellington, the main protagonist of the 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” around Halloween and a turkey around Thanksgiving.
Hoang said she thought of creating the cute shapes not only to cater to her female customers, but also because the visual representation of food plays a larger role today, especially on social media.
“Nowadays with Instagram and Facebook, everyone takes pictures of their food,” she said. “I think food always has to be presentable now.”
The shop serves about 22 rotating flavors of gelato, including strawberry, matcha green tea, birthday cake, red velvet, black sesame and Thai tea. Each flavor is made in-house, usually nightly, Hoang said.
Prices range from $3.50 to $5.50, depending on the size of the treat and if it’s shaped to be a character.
Drinks and floats are also sold.
Chau Hoang, Vyvy’s father, said he is proud of his daughter’s determination and success.
“She knew about business a long time ago,” said Chau, who works mainly at a Vietnamese grocery store. “Some days she’ll tackle everything. I can’t help all the time because I need time off too.”
The daughter said she is usually reserved and doesn’t tell many people about her business. Only a few close friends know about the shop, she said.
But that hasn’t stopped people from flocking to Eiswelt Gelato, located in an unassuming strip mall in Westminster’s Little Saigon neighborhood. Lines can be out the door on weekends, and many patrons will take photos and post about the shop on social media.
“I hear people tell me they drove two hours or five hours to be here,” Vyvy Hoang said, adding she has plans for expansion. “I just think that’s crazy. I never expected that.”
Eiswelt Gelato is at 9605 Bolsa Ave. in Westminster. Hours are 2 to 10 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 2 p.m. to midnight Fridays; 1 p.m. to midnight Saturdays; and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays. For more information: instagram.com/eisweltgelato.