How two former deal pros traded their Blackberries for strawberries
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans entered a mode of professional reassessment, ultimately deciding to follow their true passion. Two young investment bankers decided theirs was ice cream.
"It's the food you have on a bad day, but also the food you have on a great day," says Jan Wichayanuparp, 35, who founded Sweet Republic, an "artisan ice-cream parlor" in Scottsdale, Arizona, along with partner and recipe master Helen Yung, 31. Both women clearly remember the day of the attacks seven years ago, when they worked in Manhattan's Financial District. Afterward, finance no longer held the same allure for the friends.
Yung, having spent two years at Citigroup's investment-banking unit as an associate, left for Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Sydney, Australia. Wichayanuparp, a capital-markets banker specializing in Asia-Pacific deals at Citigroup, didn't leave Wall Street until 2005, but she and Yung had been planning their business for some time. "After I made VP, I thought, 'What else do I want to do?' "Wichayanuparp recalls. "It took years of dreaming and Helen's recipe planning to put it into place."
This past Memorial Day weekend, the partners opened their shop in Scottsdale, where Wichayanuparp has family. Sweet Republic combines a love of food with an appreciation for tradition. "We hand-craft everything in small batches from scratch right here in the store," Yung says. "The fruit we use ripens on our counters. We do it the old-fashioned way."
But also in a new way: While classics like Rocky Road and strawberry dot the menu, Sweet Republic expands the ice-cream experience with flavors such as Cheese Course Duo (Roquefort blue cheese and Medjool dates); I Love Bacon (caramelized smoked bacon); and the signature Salted Butter Caramel (caramel ribbons in vanilla with a dash of salt). "I Love Bacon really blows people's minds," Wichayanuparp says.
Scottsdale may be a long way from the frenzy of Wall Street, but in making their career switch, Yung and Wichayanuparp exploited their business roots. "Phoenix is down the road and is one of the fastest--growing cities in America," Yung says. "We want to capture that opportunity. You can't take finance out of us." Nor can you take away that fateful day seven years ago: Every September 11, as a thank-you for their work, first responders will get a free scoop.