What do we love more than a small business success story? A fearless pivot to a brand-new career. Alicia Liu spent twenty years in luxury fashion for brands like Prada, LVMH and Dolce & Gabbana. Her passion, however, was cooking.
Not surprising as Alicia comes from a culinary background. Her father, aunts and uncles were all chefs who owned Chinese restaurants in both Argentina and the US. Fun fact: Alicia’s relatives cooked for the last emperor of China.
A year-and-a-half ago, Alicia left New York, with her daughter and dog, to go to Los Angeles and pursue her own culinary dreams. While she had a few ideas of what she wanted to do, the one she stumbled upon—and that stuck—was her plant-based ice cream, infused with spices, called Lavender and Truffles.
We’re going to take a moment to wax poetic about how dreamy, creamy and luscious Lavender and Truffles is. The QEEP UP team skews vegan, so we’ve tried every brand of vegan ice cream out there. Trust when we say Lavender and Truffles is on another level…
But you don’t have to take our word for it. Erewhon, food market to LA’s high-end health junkies, just started carrying Alicia’s ice cream. That’s a BFD for anyone; for a one-woman business that launched less than a year ago, it’s extraordinary!
We’re so excited to bring you this incredibly inspiring Startup Spotlight: Lavender and Truffles by Alicia Liu.
Lavender and Truffles is available at every Erewhon location in Los Angeles and at Kye’s Montana. For more on Alicia and Lavender and Truffles (and to order online), go to her Instagram and her website.
Startup Spotlight: Lavender and Truffles by Alicia Liu
Can you talk about your switch from fashion to food?
I was already in my 40s and deciding if I should quit my job at Century 21 (the iconic NYC department store) to go to culinary school. A private chef friend told me not to waste time with school and to intern in a kitchen instead. I love Gjusta in Venice, CA so I became a kitchen intern for the salad and pastry chefs. Gjusta has the best produce in LA and I got to handle and experience a lot of different vegetables, salad combos and dressings.
I had this newfound relationship with vegetables and vegan cooking. From then, I decided to do a six-month program at a plant-based cooking school. I started to learn more about health, nutrition and overall wellness, so I decided to move to LA for a better lifestyle in 2019.
What happened when you moved to LA?
I wanted to get back to working in different kitchens to gain more restaurant experience. But then COVID. I had to rethink my strategy and really figure out what I wanted to do. It was a process of elimination. I didn’t want to go back to fashion. The restaurant lifestyle wasn’t for me.
I thought about what I’m good at, which is product, branding and merchandising. I wanted to launch a food product: Asian-blend spices.
How did spices turn into ice cream?
Part of the branding story was to educate people on using the spices. People are often scared to cook with spices and herbs. I decided to experiment with spice ice cream to show people how to use these spices.
Then I realized what’s in ice cream! A whole lot of full-fat milk, heavy cream, processed sugar and eggs. My daughter was going through a half-gallon every single week for the last couple of years and I’d never bothered to look at what’s in it.
Since I’d gotten more educated in food, nutrition, animal products and GMOs, I wanted to create a healthier version for her. All during COVID, I experimented with plant-based ice cream recipes.
When did you know you had “something?”
I had a tasting party for friends because I was still seeing the ice cream as a showcase for the spices. But then people asked where they could buy it. I started selling pints to friends and family, who then directed me to Kye’s Montana (in Santa Monica). They were the first to sell my ice cream.
In July 2020, I incorporated the company. It officially shifted from spices to ice cream.
You are a one-woman show. What were/are the biggest challenges and struggles?
Nailing a good, balanced recipe was a big struggle. So was labeling! There are so many laws about what needs to be on a food product label.
I’m self-funded for now and it’s been stressful. I had no income. I’m a single mom who just relocated to the West Coast so everything was new. COVID hit. Zoom school.
On the flip side, COVID gave me six months of setup time that I wouldn’t have had if I’d been working on other projects. The pandemic also made the city more welcoming for newcomers and food startups. Everybody was flexible, so it was almost easier to set up a business during that time.
How did you get past the fear and stress?
I left a very cushy, window office, exec job and it was scary. Coming out to the West Coast meant starting over from scratch.
Someone very close to me passed away in May 2019. He lived a life he wanted, not what society dictated. I was so busy working, commuting four hours every day. I didn’t have time for my daughter. Didn’t have time for myself. My friend lived life to the fullest. It wasn’t until his death that I decided it was now or never to follow my dreams and work in the food industry. I didn’t want to lose any more time to things that weren’t making me fulfilled.
I moved to LA two months after my friend died.
I made the conscious decision to finally follow my dreams, follow my heart and really let go. I didn’t have a plan, except I’m frugal so I saved up money knowing I was going to take a stab at this. I wanted to break this pattern of fear and trust the universe would take care of me.
I got the results I wanted.
Your ice cream is in Erewhon, which is amazing!
Yes! It’s my first grocer account and it’s really fucking hard to get into that store.
Does it feel like you’ve made it? What are your plans moving forward?
Getting into Erewhon is a great validation. I feel relieved, excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. But I’ve been managing by letting the universe tell me what’s next. I know it sounds so hokey, but it seems to be working.
I was such a planner for my whole career. “I’m going to be here. I’ll be at this level.” This is the first time I’m not planning my whole life. I don’t know what the next step is, but I’ll know it when I get there.
Any advice for others?
Seek other entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of good people out there. Without these other people—friends of friends—I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do what I have. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.
Trust yourself and the universe. Every time I do, things happen!
How do you self-care?
You have to make the time. It’s a conscious effort to take that self-care time. I go to the beach. I meditate every morning. I do my workouts, especially The Class by Taryn Toomey. I make time for good friends. I don’t need to have thirty friends. I just need three to five friends I can count on. It’s not quantity, it’s quality.
I make time for weekend road trips with my daughter and my dog. Even day trips here and there.
Why the name Lavender and Truffles?
It’s my way of saying, Expect the unexpected. Things you would never think of putting together: spices in ice cream, not your traditional flavors.