By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been a part of Chinatown since 1978. Founder Phillip Seid first tried setting up a little cafe. Unfortunately, the cafe didn’t work out and he decided to turn it into an ice cream shop. At the time, brands like Haagen Dazs and Carvel were just beginning to get popular. (Fun fact: it was only in 1979 that cookies and cream ice cream was introduced). Forty five years later, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is busier than ever serving locals and tourists alike.
Christina Seid, Phillip’s daughter, is now the current owner of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. The ice cream shop has been a part of her life for as long as she could remember (the shop was only three years old when she was born).
“I basically grew up at the ice cream shop. I worked there, it was my first job. I have been there since I was a little kid. It’s the story of many children of business owners,” she says.
Christina would often spend her Saturdays at the shop, watching cartoons from a small television and then helping out her parents around the store. She would stock and count the spoons, count the candy (which they sold back then), stock soda and then scoop up some delicious ice cream. Of course she would sample the flavors; one of the perks of having a dad who owned an ice cream shop. The shop was very peaceful back then.
“New York City was very different, it was a lot quieter back then,” she says. “If we sold one pint of ice cream, it was a big deal. We didn’t have as much stuff, now [we have to sell] so many pints. Ice cream in New York City is pretty bustling.”
As Christina grew older, she thought about different career paths, like in education, but she always came back to the shop. She went away for college, but would come back in the summers to help out her dad to deal with the busy summer crowd. Christina attended grad school locally and began working two jobs, as a teacher and at the shop. Eventually, she chose to work at the shop full time. In 2002, she became Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s newest owner.
“I always had to be at the store and as I grew, the business grew busier. I grew up with the store, which is different from a lot of small businesses where the second generation joins when they become an adult,” she says. “They have to learn it all at once but I’ve been working there my whole life so it was a natural progression. It wasn’t like one day I decided I was going to join. I couldn’t manage to have two jobs anymore.”
The shop’s popularity spread across New York City, and by 2019 a second shop was opened at Essex Market, a place special to Christina, as her grandmother grew up shopping there. Another location opened in Flushing, Queens, — a neighborhood very similar to Chinatown.
“I think it’s pretty amazing to run a business for 45 years,” says Christina. “My dad is still around and for him to have his business for 45 years, and for [me] to see that with my parents it’s pretty amazing.”
Customers from near and far come to Chinatown just to taste some of the delicious offerings. The store sells the usual flavors such as, lychee, matcha, almond cookie, durian (a Filipino fruit) and mango green tea ice creams, as well as what Christina calls “exotic flavors” like vanilla, chocolate and oreo.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s many customers have allowed the shop to stay open and strong for so long. A pandemic and the rise of Anti-Asian hate are no match for Christina and the shop.
“When you’re an Asian woman, you are a target because you think you’re more vulnerable, but I don’t want to be crippled by fear. Sometimes you have to continue to love your life. It’s the worst thing to live in fear,” she says. “[The store] has been through so much more than that. There are bad things that happen now, but bad things happened in the eighties. I mean my family was a victim of gang violence for a long duration of time.”
Christina’s father was at once held at gunpoint, by members of a Chinatown gang, so despite the rise in Anti-Asian hate and the effects of the pandemic, Christina knows the store is strong enough to withstand it all.
When the pandemic was at its peak, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory was only closed for a few days and despite the lockdown, there were still customers coming in to get their sugary fix. While Chinatown Ice Cream Factory did experience a dip in profits, the shop stayed afloat. Unfortunately, Christina says some of their neighbors cannot say the same.
“The pandemic wiped out a lot of places [in Chinatown] you never thought were going to go away. There’s very few of us left that have been around for as long as us,” she says. “I think it means something to the community for us to stay around. A lot of our neighbors are gone, it’s very sad.”
Christina has hopes that the business can be passed down to her children someday.
“If my children want to take over, that would be nice,” she says. “If they don’t, that’s okay, everyone has their own destiny.”
For now, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory continues to be a part of Chinatown’s personality and history.
“A lot of the city doesn’t have as much character as it does in Chinatown. The character comes from the small businesses, just like Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, because there are people behind the business. It’s the relationships that you develop and the people that you touch,” she says. “[For us] it’s kind of like Sesame Street, everyone feels comfortable and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away there’s something comforting about it.”
See Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s hours and locations on its website. Stay tuned for updates via Instagram. Get a free topping when you mention Epicenter-NYC in-person at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory’s Chinatown location.