As a part of our series on spotlighting Asian-American owned businesses we sat down with Founder and CEO of 16 Handles, Solomon Choi.
Tell us what your company does and why it’s noteworthy.
16 Handles is NYC's first self-serve frozen yogurt franchise. I started the company with a $600K seed investment from my family and moved from CA to NYC to open the first location in the East Village in July 2008.
At the time there were 9 other frozen dessert shops within a 3 block radius from the store but I decided that if I wanted to become the best I needed to prove to myself and consumers that I could be the leading frozen dessert brand amidst competition.
My cousin Alex joined the company a year after I opened the first store. He came from a finance background and helped me implement systems for ops and accounting to run a more profitable store. He also helped me work with lawyers and consultants to turn 16 Handles into a franchise company.
The company became a franchise in 2010 and we have grown to over 30 locations on the East Coast. The original East Village location still thrives today and 8 out of the 9 competitors have since closed.
Share some of the challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them.
We are still a bootstrapped company with a lean startup mentality. This has helped us in staying nimble and outmaneuvering our competition but hurt us in growth opportunities and adding people and tools that we've wanted. Still, we are proud that 13 years later, 16 Handles is the largest frozen dessert franchise in NYC and that we are working through COVID19. We opened 2 additional locations (Tribeca and Times Square during the pandemic).
As an SMB, we always need to look at the glass as half full and striving to turn a penny into a dollar. This sense of working hard and smart without overspending is something that has been instilled in us through our parents and grandparents who immigrated from South Korea to provide a better opportunity for us.
Describe the moment you were proud of being Asian American since you began your entrepreneurial journey.
I'm also proud that most of our franchisees and customers are not Asian and that we are poised to become a national and international brand. The platform that has been provided as an Asian American entrepreneur in NYC is an honor and I do not take it for granted. I hope to continue to grow 16 Handles and other brands that people will love.