After giving up a gruelling job in architecture, Larvina Wong is making a sweet success of her new career!
Hong Kong-born, Canada-bred Larvina Wong studied to be an architect in the prestigious Columbia University in New York. So for seven years she lived (and loved!) her crazy work hard, play hard life in the Big, Bad Apple. After a while though, she wanted to be closer to family and moved to Hong Kong because her sister was here and her parents came to visit often. She picked up a challenging architecture job in the city but soon had enough of the frenetic pace of work. Inspired by Italy, where she took a much-needed break, she decided to make and sell gelato, setting up Igloo Dessert Bar. She offers her advice to all mamas on how to enjoy life and balance it with a fulfilling career.
What were your architecture projects in Hong Kong and what finally made you decide that it wasn’t for you?
Hysan Place in Causeway Bay and Popcorn in Tseung Kwan O were two of my first projects in Hong Kong. I also spent a few long years also working on IAPM in Shanghai and Chongqing IFS. Don’t get me wrong, I love architecture and designing. It is, in fact, an architect’s dream to run prominent projects like these, but my job required me to fly often and work very long hours. I would miss gatherings with friends and barely had any time for my family. I remember once my parents came back to visit me and my mum said, “For the three months we were here, we saw you the most at the breakfast table!”
What was your family’s reaction when you decided to stop being an architect?
Haha! I think my parents still think (and secretly hope) that I am on a career break and will be going back to architecture. My parents have four girls, three of us have had second careers. My second sister is a dentist but picked up the harp in her free time and now is a part-time concert harpist. My third sister used to be a physiotherapist. 10 years ago, she decided to pursue her dance dream and started her own ballet school. Only my oldest sister, who is a doctor, is still practising her original profession.
How did the decision to make and sell gelato come about?
After deciding to take a break and quit my job, I went on a hiking and cooking trip to Italy. When I was there, I had a gelato almost every day. There was always a shop around the corner and a new flavour to try. Even the Italians who were working, would regularly take a break and enjoy a gelato. I thought to myself – Hong Kong people need to enjoy life like the Italians!
How did you use your experience as an architect to build Igloo?
We were very lucky to find a unique location at the Star Ferry pier. We did, however, face the challenge of fitting all machinery required for making gelato and a 16-flavour display showcase into our less than 100sqft space. Luckily, my husband is an interior designer and together with my architecture and branding skills, we were able to plan the space without an inch to spare. Now I enjoy working every day with an awesome harbour view.
What would be your top three tips to other mums who might want to change careers?
- Motivation: Don’t wait until tomorrow to do what you can do today.
- Discipline: Changing your career can seem overwhelming so take this complicated process and break it down to manageable tasks. Start small and do things that can be completed. Just keep it moving.
- Passion: Love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.
How do you balance running a successful small business with being a mother?
Honestly, it takes a village to raise a child. I am so grateful to have a wonderful husband, mama-in-law and helper who help take care of my family. It is easy to get caught up in work, especially when you are running your own business, but I always block off time for my husband and child. I play with Liam first thing in the morning at home or in the playground. I also make sure I come home to have dinner with him and put him to bed, no matter how crazy my schedule gets.
How do you manage to stay abreast of the latest trends, experiment with flavours, etc?
From classic cakes to childhood candies, many of Igloo’s gelato pay homage to my favourite desserts. I also love to cook so do not be surprised to see some savoury and spicy flavours incorporated into my gelatos. Travelling to many countries and tasting different cuisines gives me great inspiration. In the past three years, I have created over 80 recipes and I am always experimenting with ingredients to create unique and unexpected flavours.
What is the next step for Igloo?
We just signed a lease for our central kitchen/workshop in San Po Kong! The new space allows us to expand into the wholesale business. We are excited to bring Igloo’s gelato to different cafés, restaurants and retail stores. This will also double up as a workshop space to teach gelato making or host small parties.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
Playing with Liam is definitely the perfect way to unwind. His laughter and giggles can cure all stress and tension. I also love spas and massages. As opposed to unwinding after a long day, I actually like to run on the treadmill first thing in the morning to boost my energy levels and keep me going.
What do you love most about Hong Kong?
It may be a metropolis, but three-quarters of it is the countryside! My hubby and I love to go hiking and there are so many scenic hiking trails to choose from. It is a bit harder with a child now, though! On our last hike, he cried and decided he was done for the day and I carried him all the way back. My legs were shaking by the end.
What is your favourite thing to do with your son?
Children are very simple, they really just want to spend time with you, doing anything. From a really early age, Liam developed a love for books. We like to snuggle up and fill our story time with a variety of them.
Another thing we like to do together is baking. I usually measure out all the ingredients and he gets to pour it one by one into the mixing bowl. He gets a kick out of whisking it together and of course, he likes the eating part! It does get messy at times but I want to involve him in the things I love (like baking), create memories and teach him where our food comes from.
What would you say the most rewarding thing about being a mum is?
The best part about being a mother is the love I feel for my child. I never realised how big my heart would get. I get to see him discover the world for the first time and share in his excitement for things I usually take for granted. He is thrilled to see a plane or notice the ants beneath a giant leaf. He saves branches and flowers that he picks up on his walks. These are precious, little things in life that we (as adults) often ignore.
Which is your favourite gelato flavour? What about your husband and son?
Oh my goodness, that’s like asking someone who their favourite child is! The white rabbit candy is definitely a game changer for Igloo but if you ask me, my favourite flavour is probably crème brûlée or PBJ (peanut butter jelly). In my first month of pregnancy, I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner! That is how I came up with this flavour. My husband, William, will always go for the dark chocolate with bourbon cookies. Liam will eat anything, as long as he gets to hold it himself!