We continue our highlight of NYC Chinatown businesses to celebrate our NY Forever x WE ARE CHIMMI collaboration and to encourage you to explore all that Chinatown has to offer. We caught up with Tommy Leong and Cory Ng, cofounders of Milk & Cream Cereal Bar, to talk about how they founded their popular ice cream spot and how Chinatown has changed since the pandemic.
When did you open Milk & Cream, and what was the inspiration behind the business?
We opened in 2017, and we had a business before in the same space - a bike shop. We did that for 7 years. It was an opportunity that we took and ran with and before things really shifted in the industry, we thought about closing but wanted to keep working. And at that time, food and hospitality seemed more sustainable, and we wanted a complementary business to the neighborhood, where people can go to Chinatown for food and then they come to us afterward.
What are the challenges you've faced since the start of the pandemic, and what do you want people to know about your business?
We're born and raised in New York, we've lived our whole lives in Queens and Chinatown. We grew up in Chinatown, our grandparents are here, our whole families are here.
During the pandemic, we were getting the brunt of "don't go there, that's where the virus is" even right before the shutdown. People were staying far away from Chinatown on top of lockdown and uncertainty.
Now all the restaurants here don't open as long as they used to, so we still feel it. Back in the day, we would be closed at midnight, and people were still knocking on our door for us to open. And now the whole area isn't as bustling at night. So we're not getting as much business because after dinner was our peak time. The restaurants aren’t open as late for multiple reasons from the pandemic to Asian hate. Workers don't want to go home as late.
But we're still here and we're still fighting. Nothing has changed as far as what we are providing and what our culture is providing.
What does being children of immigrants mean to you or what has it taught you?
Being grateful for what we have, and understanding what our parents and grandparents have done for us to get here. We're required to move even further for the next generation. Because of what our grandparents did for us, giving us the opportunity to go to college, and open our own business — this is why they came here. And we hope that our kids and nieces and nephews realize that this is the culmination of 80 years of hard work and their great-grandparent's strength and hope to come to fruition, their wildest dreams come true.