The City Magazine Since 1975

Life Raft Treat’s Cynthia Wong dishes on her hyperrealistic ice cream novelties and the growth of her business during the pandemic

Life Raft Treat’s Cynthia Wong dishes on her hyperrealistic ice cream novelties and the growth of her business during the pandemic
August 2021

After striking out on her own with Life Raft Treats in 2018, the pastry chef is hitting her stride with her artful and witty ice cream novelties now available nationwide



CM: How have the last couple of years treated Life Raft?
CW:
We were really lucky. When the pandemic hit, we were able to take some time off and think about things. I had originally wanted the business to be all novelties, so we were like, ‘What’s stopping us from doing what we really want to do, considering that the pandemic might be the end of the business anyhow?’ The novelties translated really well on Instagram. We were fortunate that this pivot worked. We’re shipping nationwide, including Alaska and Hawaii, through Goldbelly, which has been so supportive in every single way. They helped us reach people we’d never have. The sales have fueled this stage of growth. We just moved into our production facility after working out of a commissary kitchen for years.

CM: What keeps you and Life Raft going through the busiest times?
CW:
I really enjoy my work. When someone takes a bite out of a piece of Not Fried Chicken and starts to laugh, that’s the best compliment. I was in restaurants for so long, and everyone was so serious about the food, and I wanted joy to be a part of making food again. In this labor market, people are asking, ‘Why don’t people want to work in restaurants?’ Because it can be a very stressful life with no balance. With Life Raft, our staff’s health and happiness come first. I want the company to be a vehicle for the people that work here to have a better life. We can enjoy how food makes people happy and be happy ourselves.

CM: We loved your “Hungry Dad” frozen dinner tray for Father’s Day and the ham sandwich for Easter. Where do you get inspiration for your novelties?
CW:
It goes back to being completely obsessed with the plastic food in the window of Japanese restaurants. As a kid, I was fascinated by fake food. It’s inspired junky, trashy things made with beautiful milk from Lowcountry Creamery. A lot of times when we create things, we’re looking for a way to spark some joy.

CM: Any hints on what’s coming for fall?
CW:
We’re going to do the Thanksgiving plate again this year, and we’re launching 3-D sorbets for our non-dairy, vegan friends in fun shapes like apples, pears, and citrus. Plus the snow-dusted chocolate pinecones we did last Christmas and maybe a frozen bûche de Noël.

CM: What’s next for Life Raft? Will we see a brick and mortar from you?
CW:
For sure, it would be something very small and super cute. I like the Elliotborough neighborhood, and we’d like to be close to our friends who have businesses there. Our patience looking for a production space paid off, so we are trying to keep that same kind of mind-set. We’re also going to get self-service freezers so we can have them throughout town and get into key retailers in the Southeast. And we’d like to expand into more Whole Foods regionally.

CM: What advice would you offer someone looking to launch a small business in food and beverage?
CW:
Start small. Find a commissary kitchen and stay there as long as you possibly can until you’re busting at the seams. A lot of it’s luck and the kindness of other people. We have this incredible core of regulars who are patient with us. Stay true to yourself. Go for it.

Flip through the photo gallery for Cynthia’s favorite things.