Scottsdale ice cream shop serving up unique flavors to sweeten your day

March is Women’s History Month and here at Arizona PBS we are recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of inspiring women paving the way across the Valley and beyond. From business leaders, entrepreneurs, and community developers, it’s these women who empower the next generation of females to break barriers and push for a transformative impact.

There’s no better place to satisfy a sweet tooth than the Valley’s own Sweet Republic. Founded in 2008, the owners, Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanupar, have allured ice cream connoisseurs with their artisan handmade batches of ice cream that draw on a blend of more than 20 unique flavors you won’t find anywhere else. 

Starting with backgrounds in investment banking in New York City, Helen and Jan knew they had a passion for something sweeter. Opening locations across Phoenix, Sweet Republic creates tasty indulgences from all-natural ingredients handcrafted in small batches right in-store. Starting from the savory milk and creams provided by local Arizona dairy farms, to the delectable toppings like marshmallows, brownies and waffle cones made entirely from scratch and by hand.  

As the weather and ice cream cravings start to heat up, Helen was able to take time out of her busy schedule to do an email interview with Arizona PBS to talk about their ice cream, how it came to be, and what makes it so special.  

AZPBS: What attracted you to making ice cream professionally?

Helen: I knew I wanted to do something in food. Food has been my passion throughout my life. I liked to cook and try out new restaurants when I worked in investment banking in New York City, London and Tokyo. I worked at a restaurant briefly in San Francisco and realized that wasn’t for me. I like the variety of ice cream; you can offer 20-plus flavors in a small footprint with classic vanilla bean along with a rotating list of seasonal and global-leaning flavors. I like the control we have of making ice cream in advance so there are fewer uncertainties, and it’s scalable. We make everything in our Scottsdale kitchen and deliver them to our Phoenix and Tempe locations for sale.

 AZPBS: I read that you and your business partner, Jan, are former investment bankers. How did you two meet and what motivated you to make the career switch?

Helen: We met in New York City during investment banking associate training at the same company. We bonded over our love of food and started talking about doing something in the food business. She went back to work for a few more years in investment banking. I left after a year and went to culinary school in Sydney, Australia. We kept in touch and eventually moved here to start Sweet Republic. 

 AZPBS: Sweet Republic has received national attention from Bon Appetit, Time Magazine, and U.S. News and World Report. What has that been like for you? When you first opened your doors in 2008, did you ever imagine it would become as widely popular as it is today?

The recognition was overwhelming in the beginning. We never expected the response to reach so far and wide so soon. We did hope that Sweet Republic would be successful one day and we’re grateful that it has. 

 AZPBS: Although you’re from the East Coast, you decided to plant roots in Phoenix and open your first artisanal ice cream shop. Why Phoenix?

I was actually born and raised in Hong Kong, while Jan was born in Bangkok and grew up in Los Angeles. Her sister was doing an internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and Barrow Neurological Institute. We came to visit and after exploring the city we felt there was great potential for an artisan ice cream shop.  After all, it’s ice cream weather all year round here! 

 AZPBS: Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?

Jen: I get asked this a lot and my response has always been it’s like choosing which of my kids is my favorite. I love the variety and would rather have a bite of everything than sit down to eat a scoop. That’s the advantage of being the owner—I get to do that. In general, I love beer, tea and coffee flavors. I love the contrast of sweetness and bitterness. I love anything with nuts too for the crunchy textural contrast. 

 AZPBS: When you first opened your doors in 2008, how did people respond?

Jen: People who came in loved it and many became loyal customers. Social media back then wasn’t as pervasive as it is now and we were in a location with low visibility so it was tough in the beginning. That’s why we decided to convert a 1959 Chevy milk van and take it to food truck events and farmers markets to get the word out. 

 AZPBS: Aside from your innovative concoctions, what else makes Sweet Republic stand out from the competition?

Jen: We are one of less than a handful of ice cream shops in Arizona that make our own ice cream base from scratch. The process is very labor-intensive and requires the use of a VAT pasteurizer that is regulated by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Most shops buy a pre-made base and add their flavorings to it. Making our own base guarantees freshness and gives us more control in tailoring our flavors. 

 AZPBS: Your shop is chock full of unique and unconventional ice cream flavors. Where does the inspiration come from?

Jen: It’s a combined effort between me, Jan and our kitchen team. We look for inspiration from holidays and events, such as the passing of influential figures like Ruth Ginsburg and Betty White, that we want to celebrate the memories of. 

 AZPBS: Your website mentions that your shop is designed with eco-friendly materials. Why was this important to you?

Jen: We are all a part of this Earth and just want to do our best to leave as small of an environmental footprint as we can. We compost all our food waste and recycle whenever possible. 

 AZPBS: Any plans in the future to open more Sweet Republic locations?

Jen: Not yet. When staffing challenges ease up we may consider it. 

To learn more about Sweet Republic and to check out their rotating line of delicious ice cream flavors, visit their website here.

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