Cherry Hill native to bring Thai-style ice cream to hometown
FAMILY: Parents Steven and Wendy; Brothers Jacob, 21, and Ross, 16; dog Charlie
SYNAGOGUES: Temple Emanuel & Chabad
FAVORITE FLAVOR: Monkey See Monkey Do (Banana Nutella)
What used to be a vacant storefront located at 711 Walnut Street in Washington Square in Philadelphia has been turned into ice cream paradise by 20-year-old Cherry Hill native Kyle Billig.
Sweet Charlie’s, his trendy, new ice cream parlor, features a Thai-style “rolled” frozen dessert. Unlike the ice cream we all grew up on, Thai style is at its utmost freshness and the ice cream is made right before your eyes on a cold metal surface (the freezer) that dips below 20ºF. The fresh ingredients are mixed together on the freezer and combined right before your eyes until the erstwhile mess of items is rolled into multiple quarter-width rolls of ice cream. The result is a sweet, creamy taste and texture with the hidden surprises of the mixed-in toppings (think donuts and strawberries).
It is fairly new to the United States (not so much in Thailand) that incorporates the freshest ingredients, including fruit and other sweet toppings, with the made-on-the-spot ice cream base. Customers have the option of choosing traditional ice cream, non-fat yogurt or vegan base and then adding the flavors and toppings accordingly. The treat is free of stabilizers, emulsifiers and preservatives.
The world of entrepreneurship is not a new concept to Kyle. Starting at a young age, young Kyle went door-to-door selling challah in his neighborhood. His family has owned Billig Jewelers, a Marlton-based store, for more than 25 years, so the idea of owning and starting his own company was only natural for the young businessman.
“It was instilled into [my brother Jacob and I] that we would become entrepreneurs,” said Kyle, noting that he and Jacob took it to heart. “We were always looking for a way to make things better and turn our hobbies into means of income.”
Kyle graduated from Cherry Hill East in 2015 and then went on to Arizona State University to pursue a degree in business entrepreneurship. However, his time at Arizona State was short lived. He left to test his real skills in his field of study by starting Sweet Charlie’s, named after his dog, Charlie. He’s currently managing his business while finishing his degree by taking classes online.
Since bringing the first Thai-style ice cream to Philadelphia in May 2016, the company is in expansion mode. Plans are in the works to bring the business to Cherry Hill this spring.
He said he has gotten an overwhelming response from customers both locally and nationally who praise the new style of ice cream.
“We have evolved a lot as far as a product and as well as an operational standpoint, from when we opened, and that all has to do with customer feedback,” said Kyle.
Sweet Charlie’s has also enjoyed a great deal of press coverage regarding the Thai ice cream phenomenon. Social media, he noted, has been instrumental in promoting the business as well.
Sweet Charlie’s is now in the process of expanding nationally. Shortly after opening the first location in Washington Square, he opened another location in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on July 4, 2016. The company is set to expand with three more announced locations: Rittenhouse Square, Cherry Hill and Atlanta. Five unannounced locations across the nation are also currently in “development.”
“Every Sweet Charlie’s location will have the same business model,” noted Kyle. “It needs to stay consistent across the brand so customers will know what to expect whether they walk into Philadelphia or Atlanta, Georgia.”
Just as Billig Jewelers was founded by siblings—Kyle’s father Steve and brother Rick Billig—Kyle has recruited Jacob, a senior at West Virginia University, to be the chief operating officer and co-founder.
Jacob Billig said he and his brother are “pleasantly surprised by the success that [they] have encountered thus far, and it has exceeded [their] expectations.”
As for right now, the Billig boys are still in the early stages of growing their empire.
“I am learning unbelievable amounts, and a lot is from experience,” noted Kyle. “A lot that you can’t learn in a classroom, having the opportunities to learn and gain experiences, meeting with people in many different fields, design, architecture, food, distribution, supply chains, and I am really getting a taste of business in many different aspects.”
The USA is about to get a whole lot sweeter. Just roll with it. s