FEATURE: Business heats up for shaved ice shop

JUST DESSERTS::Business started slowly for the Taipei store, but picked up soon after a blogger visited the shop and wrote a rave review about its products online

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - Page 5

Ice stores or stands selling bowls of ice shavings topped with sliced mangoes — or a variety of other toppings — are ubiquitous in Taiwan. However, very few of them can stay open year-round and can still vouch for the freshness of the fruit used.

Mango Chang’s (張智閔) ice store in Taipei boasts of being able to give its customers fresh mangoes all year round.

The store says it uses a rapid freezing technique — often used to preserve the freshness of northern bluefin tuna for export — on mangos, which the store uses as a prime ingredient in a number of products.

The store uses mangoes in everything — mango on shaved ice, mango juice, mango-flavored coffee, mango tarts, mango jelly, mango-flavored alcoholic drinks and even mango-scented soaps — and the store has since earned a special recommendation in a well-known Japanese tourism and travel magazine, as well as visits from celebrities and many foreign tourists.

Previously, Chang was a sales representative at a foreign pharmaceutical company that sells drugs to treat depression.

He enjoyed not only a triple-A performance, but a formidable annual salary of nearly NT$1 million (US$34,130).

However, he made a radical career move after seeing many sales representatives depart the company after failing to bring in sufficient profits.

“I felt that instead of finding a job at the age of 40 or 50, I might as well start early and start a business of my own,” Chang said, adding that he quit his job five years ago and started his humble store at a roadside shop — a small space of about 29.7m2 — near Renai Road.

Chang said the beginning was very hard, as the number of customers could vary tremendously.

During the summer, business could be so good that Chang and his wife would be too busy slicing mangoes to notice they often nicked themselves with the knives. However, on rainy days, there was often not a single customer in their shop.

Business picked up after a blogger visited the store and shared his experiences on the Internet.

The blogger’s review brought the burgeoning shop some much needed patrons.

“It was quite unfortunate that at that time, the landlord said that he would be taking back the premises,” Chang said.

As a result, he had to relocate the shop with utmost haste.

“The rent here is four times as expensive as the previous site, but there was nothing that could be done,” Chang said.

After the relocation, Chang decided he needed to make his store unique and set upon distinguishing his shop from others.

He decided he would only sell products made from mangoes.

Following this decision, he started selecting only the best mangoes — those that were of a grade fit for export — and refused to use any additives in his products, instead placing a heavy emphasis on the organic nature of his products.

It was not long before reporters from a Japanese travel magazine asked for an interview with Chang.

That interview was quickly followed by another, this time with a Japanese magazine on hot springs that was doing a feature story on a characteristically Taiwanese product — ice shavings with fresh sliced mangoes.

The reports seemed to have drawn the right attention, as Shimura Ken, a renowned Japanese comedy actor, also designated Chang’s store as a must-visit attraction during one of his trips to Taiwan.

However, Chang said that he has tried not to be satisfied with what he has already achieved.

He has continued to experiment and promote novel products, and has even attempted to sell tangyuan soup with mangoes in winter.

Tangyuans are glutinous rice balls that are cooked and served in boiling water that are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival.

Chang said the experiment did not start well, with several customers complaining about the taste and edibility of the product.

However, after two years of continuous trials, Chang managed to make the dish more appealing to his customers.

“It has since become a best-seller during the winter season,” Chang said, adding that customers were always his best teachers as they offered the most direct opinions on the taste of the products.

Chang also said that he plans to research how to make mango tea and cosmetic products using mangoes.

Commenting on the difference between his current business and his previous career, Chang said that while his previous salary was considerable, it also came with a lot of responsibility.

“I saw a lot of things during my 14 years at the company, including the deaths and ailments of patients in hospitals,” Chang said.

“You only live once, and you don’t get a restart button, so make the best of your dreams as you can,” Chang added.

Chang also wished to encourage the younger generation not to be afraid if they wanted to start their own business or do something that would help them realize their dream.

If one holds to a unique path and perseveres with continued innovation, success will not be a stranger, Chang said.