After years of planning and saving, Nino and Cheryl Eng can finally add a new job title to their resumes: ice cream maker.
Late last month, the husband-and-wife team opened NITE Creamery, a nighttime ice cream shop, located at 2003 Miller St. in Santa Maria. Offering eight unique flavors of ice cream, Nino Eng said the shop's simple-yet-elaborate menu has won over many customers from Santa Maria and across the Central Coast.
"We got a great reaction from everybody that came during our grand opening," he said. "A month later, we still have a lot of people amazed at what we're doing. We've had a lot of great feedback."
Originally from Long Beach, Nino Eng, a former insurance agent and onetime Lompoc Penitentiary correctional officer, said the idea of starting a business was something he and his wife, a Santa Maria native, had discussed but never pursued.
The pair met during their time at Golden State Baptist College in Santa Clara, where he recalled spending late nights at coffee shops and other places. After dropping out of college at the start of his third year (it was an important experience but not for him), Nino Eng relocated to Santa Maria and started working to pursue their entrepreneurial dream.
"We've always had the luxury of going out late at night and getting a dessert or coffee, but Santa Maria really lacked that," he said. "The only thing that is really open are big chains. We wanted to start something where people could come later in the night and have a good time."
According to Nino Eng, the pair submitted several lease applications for storefronts across Santa Maria before being rejected several times. Calling it "discouraging and demoralizing," he said multiple places turned them down for their lack of business experience, insufficient capital or a general lack of interest in their business proposal.
"A lot of people didn't like our idea," he said. "We're super new to this and don't know much about business. We came into this thing blind."
For Nino Eng, NITE's big draw over their competitors is their unique, in-store production process. Commercial ice cream is typically produced through a lengthy, multistep process involving several pieces of industrial-sized equipment. It is often frozen in a continuous freezer before being injected with air, Nino Eng explained, altering consistency and texture while decreasing the amount of ice cream a consumer often receives.
Bucking the commercial process, NITE utilizes a liquid nitrogen system to make individual orders within a matter of minutes. With a boiling point of 320 degrees below zero, the liquid instantly freezes the milk on contact and evaporates, leaving behind a "smoother, creamier and better" scoop of ice cream.
The liquid is extremely cold, odorless and safe to use, Nino Eng explained, and results in ice cream that is free from ice crystals and that "unpleasant freezer taste" sometimes found in cartons fished from the depths of a grocery store's freezer section.
"Ice cream is one of my passions ... and one of the things I can make and execute well," he said. "I always thought I could make [ice cream] better than what I have tasted."
Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga