Is there anything better than summer and ice cream? Just like memories of warm weather and vacations, who doesn’t recall a summer visit to their favorite ice cream shop?
The husband and wife team of Jeff Wong and Jennifer Mar know this as well as anyone, especially since they opened in Moorpark six years ago.
The idea came to them after a visit to their source.
“The original Sweet Retreat in San Jose is a very popular store,” said Wong. “When we discovered it, we asked the owner if he’d be interested in licensing a store down here. We’re the only one in Southern California.”
Unlike most chain ice cream stores, Sweet Retreat is not a franchise.
“We’re licensed, not franchised,” Wong explained. “When you own a franchise, it really involves a lot of rules. With licensing, you take on the name but you’re free to modify and run your own business. We’re completely local.”
Sweet Retreat is not your average run of the mill ice cream store.
“We serve a gourmet ice cream that no one else around here can get,” said Wong. “It’s shipped directly to us from the store in San Jose. The difference is the top-notch quality of ingredients. The ice cream is smooth, creamy and not too sugary.”
They include popular flavors like brownie a la mode, Oreo mint krunch and marble black raspberry. In addition, they serve a very unique yogurt.
“We make sweet and tart yogurt the old fashioned way,” said Wong. “Our yogurt comes out smooth and creamy, not icy. We blend to order, and when we blend we use real ingredients like strawberries and raspberries. Reese’s Peanut Butter and banana yogurt? Yeah, we can do that.”
Their other specialty is Hawaiian shave ice—the real stuff just like you’d find in Hawaii.
“We’ve actually had Hawaiians come in and tell us we do it the right way,” said Wong.
Wong didn’t grow up dreaming of owning an ice cream store. He’s from L.A. and graduated with electrical engineering degrees from UC Davis. He actually has a full time job working at a high-tech company in Camarillo.
Mar graduated with a B.S. in computer science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She handles the back office and raises their three children.
They chose this operation because it allowed them to work together as a family.
“It seemed like a perfect family type business for this local area,” Wong said. “Our whole family runs the business. We do everything from inventory to serving customers. If you had to ask yourself, ‘What’s a family owned business?’—that’s us.”
Wong and Mar originally wanted to open in Simi Valley, but couldn’t find the right location. They considered Moorpark because at that time there was only Baskin Robbins in town.
“It’s a good location at the corner of two busy streets,” said Wong, “and we thought we could bring something different to Moorpark.”
Their store’s reputation stretches out for quite some distance. People who’ve moved down from the Bay area, as well as the surrounding communities in Ventura County, make special trips for their ice cream and yogurt.
“We have some customers who used to go to the San Jose store,” said Wong. “They’ve moved down here and drive an hour and a half to eat our ice cream and yogurt. Other people come from Fillmore or Newbury Park. We’ve been attracting customers from a 30—mile radius.”
As a local business, they try to regularly participate in local school fundraisers and the city’s Third of July Fireworks Extravaganza.
“We try to give back to the neighborhood,” said Wong. “We always give back 33 percent of gross proceeds at the local schools’ fundraisers.”
While running a business is hard work, there are some benefits to owning a small ice cream store, such as getting to know the kids who hang out there.
“We get to see them grow up,” Wong said. “We have some that were kids when we first moved here and now they’ve gone to college. They bring their friends in when they come back to town for visits.”
Sweet Retreat is located at 525 Los Angeles Avenue, Suite G, near the corner of Los Angeles and Spring Street. It is open daily from 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.