Downtown Chicago is about to see more Thai rolled ice cream as Wonderoll, a new ice cream parlor chain, is opening locations at Water Tower Place and at The Shops at North Bridge. But before that pair opens, Wonderoll will debut on March 1 near Willis Tower, sharing the same space as a new 50-seat Sixty Five Chinese Restaurant — the local chain popular during lunch in the Loop.
The Water Tower and North Bridge locations should open May 1. Wonderoll will be on the seventh floor at Water Place and on the fourth floor at North Bridge. Meanwhile, the Sixty Five location at 333 S. Franklin Street will be the chain’s first new location in 15 years. And given the trendiness of Thai ice cream, it made sense to make it a part of the new space, said Jolene Chen, owner of Sixty Five and Wonderoll. This is not her first foray into ice cream.
Last February, Chen and two other partners opened Legend Tasty House, a Chinese restaurant that serves ice cream at 2242 S. Wentworth Avenue in Chinatown. Originally, Legend opened with a full menu. But when owners saw hour-long waits for ice cream, they stopped serving main dishes and brought in more ice cream machines.
“The name ‘Legend’ was not named for ice cream,” Chen said. “It was typical Chinese food with ice cream as a dessert.”
Chen and her partners pivoted as Thai ice cream continues to increase in popularity. Instead of the traditional ice cream scoop, Thai ice cream shop employees flatten the ice cream (traditional Western flavors like chocolate and vanilla) on a cold flattop. They then add chopped-up toppings — like sprinkles, candy, and cookies — and use a spatula to roll the ice cream up. Then end product looks like a mini crepe. Two or three of these rolls are then stuffed in a cup and topped with items like hot fudge or garnished with a torched marshmallow.
Sales at Legend have dropped during winter which is why Chen pursued shopping centers spaces. She imagines holiday shoppers inside Water Tower and North Bridge to be more inclined to try some ice cream during frigid Novembers and Decembers.
Chen saw an opportunity to expand and her real estate agent, Reuben Rischall — senior VP at Metro Commercial Real Estate, suggested that she expand downtown. Wonderoll will also serve macaroons and bubble tea. It’s the same concept as Legend, but without Chen’s two other business partners.
“I didn’t see much downtown ice cream shops beside Baskin Robbins and Baskin Robbins in Dunkin’ Donuts — that’s it,” Chen said. “It’s boring.”
Sixty Five is a family-owned local chain that’s been around Chicago for more than two decades. They’ve got four locations, all assembly-line spots that Chen compared to Panda Express. At one time, they had a sit-down restaurant in Lincoln Park on the corner of Armitage and Sedgwick.