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Dearly departed: The closed Good Habit ice cream store in Parnell, Auckland (Image: Chris Schulz/Tina Tiller)
Dearly departed: The closed Good Habit ice cream store in Parnell, Auckland (Image: Chris Schulz/Tina Tiller)

BusinessFebruary 16, 2022

If an ice cream shop can’t survive a sweltering summer, what can?

Dearly departed: The closed Good Habit ice cream store in Parnell, Auckland (Image: Chris Schulz/Tina Tiller)
Dearly departed: The closed Good Habit ice cream store in Parnell, Auckland (Image: Chris Schulz/Tina Tiller)

Another excellent Auckland eatery has been destroyed by omicron’s wrecking ball. We ask the owners if there’s any hope they’ll keep supplying the cold stuff.

They didn’t do normal. When customers arrived at Kristen and Henry Cheung’s small Parnell ice cream shop, they were greeted by wildly imaginative flavour pairings. Strawberries with a sweet balsamic reduction. Freshly foraged mint with gluten-free brownie chunks. Lemon zest with poppy seeds and thyme to recreate the couple’s favourite muffins. 

The pair had one motto, to “radically change” how customers imagined plant-based ice cream. Dairy was out, coconut milk and cashew cream was in. Sugar was mostly a no-no, replaced by dates and maple syrup. Flavours were big and bold. “We start with the season,” says Henry. “We wanted to come up with things that are more than the basic flavours that you see in (other) stores.” 

Everything was vegan, made in-house by Kristen. She baked the chocolate-chip brownies, churned the ice cream, mixed the flavours. Henry ran logistics, and the shop. Their desire to pioneer new pairings led to extremes, like last year’s grapefruit recipe. “We squeezed all the grapefruit juice, we’d toast juniper berries, then we’d marinate it with a bit of grapefruit zest and hibiscus flower,” says Henry. “Chocolate wasted”, also full of brownie chunks, became a big seller. So did maple vanilla, and a tarmac-black sesame.

For nearly two years, Henry and Kristen worked up to 80-hour weeks to run Parnell’s Good Habit ice cream shop, where the ice cream was brilliant, the flavours were delightful, the decor was calming, and the passion for what they did oozed through every serve.

Good Habit
A selection of seasonal flavours available at Good Habit (Screengrab: Instagram)

Judges agreed: lemon poppy thyme won silver, and chocolate wasted bronze, in the 2021 Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards. So did customers. “Def the best ice cream in Auckland,” wrote Paco MG in a recent Google review. When our family visited regularly, there were often queues of people waiting for a freshly pressed maple waffle cone filled with delicious creamy treats.

It seemed too good to be true. It was. It’s all gone.

Last Saturday night, several Good Habit regulars arrived to find a typed note taped to the door. It read: “We are sad to announce that we have closed shop permanently. Thank you for your support over the past two years, it was an incredible experience to create a brand loved by vegans, meat-lovers, and everyone in between … your support definitely made our lives easier throughout the pandemic.”

What happened? Henry says it wasn’t as sudden as it seems. “It was kind of a gradual change,” he says. He and Kristen made the decision last August, when another lockdown was announced in Auckland. They looked at the numbers, and decided they couldn’t make it work. “Even if the business was going to grow two times, or three times, that wasn’t going to cut it.” 

Good habit
Kristen and Henry Cheung, the owners of Parnell’s Good Habit ice cream shop. Image: Supplied

They’d struggled since opening in March 2020, signing the lease two weeks before Covid-19 lockdowns first began. “Right off the bat things were working against us,” says Henry. Since then, they’ve renovated twice, and the costs of running the shop were starting to bite. “It was going to be too much,” he says. “I think it was the best decision to pull the plug.”

Their closure is one of many in Auckland across the past week. It comes during an unprecedented crisis. Last Friday, seemingly successful eateries Saan and Xuxu announced the dream was over. Antoine’s, Woodpecker Hill and Euro are already gone. Farmers markets across the city are finishing up. Even the Paradise buffet has closed. 

Chand Sahrawat, the co-owner of Sid at The French Cafe and Cassia, told the Sunday Star-Times Auckland’s central city was a ghost town, giving most eateries there three to six months. It’s an opinion shared by Ima’s owner Yael Shochat, responsible for the country’s best hot cross buns. “It feels like level three,” she told Radio NZ. “We’re only at the beginning of it. The city’s restaurants are in a really bad space.”

But if an excellent ice cream shop can’t make it in summer, who can?

Henry, who’s returned to his former career as a software developer, believes omicron isn’t entirely to blame. Yes, timing was an issue, but no one has any control over a global pandemic. “I don’t blame anyone or the government. It’s not something anyone can foresee, it’s just the way it is.” Location was also an issue. They chose Parnell for the tourists, but Covid-19 put paid to that, and lockdowns ruined incomes from those based in offices.

Good Habit
The note that greeted Good Habit customers (Photo: Chris Schulz)

Asked about the restaurant industry’s chances of survival, Henry’s upbeat. “The ones who do survive, they’ll come out a lot stronger,” he says. He thinks a new wave of foodies will come through once omicron passes. “New business people who have the right timing (and) got burned out by day jobs, maybe they’ll have the same enthusiasm I had a few years ago and start new things.”

As for their dream, it’s not quite over. They tried to “go quietly” but have been moved by messages from customers rolling in on social media. Several approached them wanting to buy Good Habit. They’re not sure they’ll sell. “Maybe we can release a small Amazon e-book full of recipes or learnings,” says Henry. “It’s not about the money. There are things we can do to keep pushing the movement.” 

The ice cream, though, is all gone. There’s none left, not even a secret tub of chocolate wasted rattling around in a freezer. “I’m sorry,” says Henry. “We made an effort to get rid of it as soon as we could.” My kids nearly cried when I broke the news.

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