Source: Palm PR

Two Siblings Quit the City to Make Japanese Ice-Cream

Vivien and Howard Wong gave up successful careers because of a Japanese dessert.

Vivien Wong and her brother Howard are pinning their future on a Japanese favorite only now gaining popularity elsewhere.

Mochi is made by steaming and pounding rice flour until it has a chewy texture like a gummy bear or even – at a stretch – soft toffee, only with a more complex flavor that doesn't depend on sweetness.

Vivien is a chartered accountant who spent four years working in financial analysis at Barclays Capital, after three years at Baker Tilly. Howard was an analyst at JPMorgan Cazenove.

Little Moons mango ice cream.
Little Moons mango ice cream.
Source: Palm PR

He first tried the ice-cream version of mochi on a visit to the U.S. and thought it might be a business opportunity.

"I really enjoyed the City," Vivien says. "But we both wanted to start our own company. I wanted to be more in control of my own time and to be able to create something tangible."  

They formed V&H Ltd. in May 2008 and spent two years developing the products before they began trading in 2010. They have two lines: Little Moons frozen mochi ice-cream and Tsuki Mochi truffles, and started by supplying restaurants.

Little Moons Mochi ice cream packaging.
Little Moons Mochi ice cream packaging.
Source: Palm PR

Success came surprisingly quickly. Vivien met two key industry figures at the 2010 Restaurant Show in Olympia: Mike Lewis, executive chef at the Yo Sushi restaurant chain; and Regis Cursan, executive pastry chef at Nobu in London.

"Yo Sushi wanted our chocolate mochi immediately," Howard says. "We got our first order for a pallet, which, at the time, was huge. It was like: 'Does anyone have a forklift we can borrow?' "

Another early supporter was Emma Reynolds, co-owner of the Tonkotsu ramen restaurants. Customers now include the French chain Sushi Shop, which has an outlet in London.

"Going into restaurants was a strategic decision because at the time we didn’t have enough money to invest in a brand," Howard says. "Even if we'd been able to get into stores, we knew maybe fewer than one in 100 people at the time had heard of mochi. Selling through restaurants was a way of getting the product out to people while testing the market." 

The company announced in June that it was branching out into retail, with an agreement to sell Little Moons in Whole Foods, while Selfridges stocks Tsuki Mochi.

At the time, it was already supplying 15,000 individual mochis a day to restaurants, including Wagamama. At Yo Sushi, the mochis are the best-selling dessert, with eight ordered every minute. Nobu serves a bespoke range.

Vivien and Howard Wong gave up working in the City to make Japanese desserts.
Vivien and Howard Wong gave up working in the City to make Japanese desserts.
Source: Palm PR

V&H aims to have retail make up 50 per cent of revenue in five years.

Sales are now on track to reach 2 million pounds ($3 million) this year from 1 million pounds last year, Vivien says.

Richard Vines is the chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines

(An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect currency conversion in the last paragraph.)

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