Tan Nguyen, owner of 316 T.G. 4 Ice Cream, builds foundation of business on faith

ON A ROLL New parlor brings 'stir fry style' ice cream to Cartersville

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Some business owners prefer titles like "founder" or "chief executive officer." But Tan Nguyen, operator of 316 T.G. 4 Ice Cream at 640 Henderson Drive, suite 501, in Cartersville opts for an entirely different kind of moniker. 

"I'm the janitor here," the 39-year-old Cartersville resident said. "I'm like a maintenance man, I'm keeping the shop clean."

That's a fitting description of Nguyen's role at the new ice cream shop, which opened May 31 in the West End Commons shopping center. Simply put, he does just about everything there, from brewing up its strawberry green milk teas to cranking out its waffle cone "tacos" to coming up with the names of their specialty rolled ice cream dishes (and yes, the "Honey, I Luv U Long Time" mix is indeed an homage to Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket.")

He's not joking about being the janitor, either. If he isn't micromanaging new employees, greeting customers or serving up "Top of the Morning" (coffee and chocolate chip) or "The Hulk" (that's green tea plus peaches and peanuts) ice cream dishes, you'll probably find him zooming to and fro cleaning the glass countertops of his business' dark wooden spool tables. And if he's not at 316 T.G. 4 Ice Cream, he's probably across the parking lot at his other business in the shopping center, 316 Nails in suite 102.

"Me and my wife, we always walked up and down to get the mail, and we saw this place, it used to be a cupcake place, and we saw a sign that looked like they were going to close," Nguyen recalled. "We said 'we could take over and we could offer rolled-up ice cream, which is something they'd don't have here, and we could create an environment that is positive' — I'm putting God in everything in here."

Again, Nguyen isn't exaggerating. Bible verses are displayed all over the restaurant — on decorative wooden carvings, on a dry erase board near the back of the eatery, even on his step ladder. Worship music frequently plays over the in-house stereo. A message on a napkin dispenser reminds customers to "always thank God for your ice cream." In  fact, the name of the business itself is an ode to quite possibly the most famous bible verse of all, John 3:16.

It's been a long, winding journey for Nguyen. Born in Vietnam, he grew up about half an hour away from Ho Chi Minh City, the country's largest city. He came to the United States in 1990 and moved to Georgia about 10 years ago.

He's held a number of jobs over the years (his resume includes stints as a body collision repairman and a nail technician, among other gigs), but outside of a few fast food jobs when he was younger, he said he had virtually no experience in restaurants.

"When I was setting this up and working on the shop, I was almost like a blind man feeling his way as he walked around," he said. "I mean, I don't know anything about ice cream, but I do eat a lot of ice cream."

So where did Nguyen learn the ins and outs of the frozen treat trade? 

"Thank God for YouTube," he said. "There are a lot of things on there that inspire me."

That includes his business' signature offering, the rolled ice cream. Instead of being served in scooped mounds, the delicacy is served "stir fry style" — the ingredients are mixed together on a frozen pan and scraped into a cylindrical shape. The final product is arranged like an edible bouquet, complete with extra garnishes like candy, cookies and fresh fruit.

"The rolled ice cream, I believe, originated in Thailand," he said. "I thought it would be a neat thing to have here ... it's new and it's entertaining for people to see us while we're making the ice cream, as we're rolling it and we're chopping it."

Of course, customers can get regular old soft serve ice cream, too, with flavor options running the gamut from vanilla to butter pecan to rocky road. But even there Nguyen gets to add a unique spin to the tried and true ice cream parlor favorites.

"Instead of the traditional waffle cone, we made the taco-shaped waffle cone," he said.

"It's really good and a lot of people are enjoying it."

The restaurant also offers additional items, including churros and boba tea.

As for Nguyen's personal favorites, he said he's quite fond of the affogato, a sort of ice cream-espresso hybrid, and the "I Am So Nutty" Tiramisu ice cream, which comes with vanilla wafers and peanut butter. "It's guaranteed to be good," he said. 

Although the ice cream shop has barely been open two weeks, Nguyen's business is already drawing a crowd. "Records indicate we had 100 customers, maybe more," he said. "That is a lot for a grand opening." 

It's an especially amazing feat, Nguyen said, because he really hasn't done much to advertise the business. Apparently, the rave reviews started circulating around social media in a hurry, and from there, good old fashioned consumer curiosity has done the P.R. work for him. 

"It's just by word of mouth, man," he said.

As for his long-term business plans, well, Nguyen said he doesn't really have any. 

"I'm just going by it, day-by-day," he said. "The Bible said I'd be foolish to think too long ahead, because every day is a gift from God."

Nguyen said he considers he and his wife "blessed," with 316 T.G. 4 Ice Cream representing their opportunity to give back to the community. And that, he said, means treating his customers more like brothers and sisters than patrons.

But there is another reason, however, why Nguyen said he goes an extra step or two beyond with his desserts.

"When we mix the mixes, we don't want to be short-changing people, we'll put in extra creamer, extra milk," he said. "Because the thing about it is, I'm eating this, not just selling it, so I want it to be good."