Gee Yang, owner of Carolina Crispy Fry in Raleigh, brings fresh flavors to the State Farmers Market with an innovative icy snack called the SnowFlake.
by Katie Pate | photography by Joe Pellegrino
While she was a chef at Cary’s popular Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill, Gee Yang became intrigued by the abundance of local farms and products in North Carolina while exploring the state with her husband, Jay Jeon. She also had a habit of testing off-menu items with her customers—and they were a hit. “They encouraged me to open a new restaurant!” says Yang.
With that encouragement, Yang opened Carolina Crispy Fry in 2019 as a way to blend Asian-fusion cuisine with North Carolina ingredients. Part of the business is a food truck that focuses on hearty, fried creations like breaded and fried cheese pork cutlets and crispy dumplings with a special dipping sauce. “It’s all handmade,” she says.
Yang also invested in a booth inside her favorite place, the North Carolina State Farmers Market. Because of space and equipment limitations inside the Market Shoppes though—and shoppers’ cravings for more snackable foods—she adjusted the menu. Today, they have two menu mainstays: the SnowFlake, an Instagram-worthy fruit-filled shaved ice treat, and crunchy, wholesome Carolina Pop Snacks. “Customers say to us, ‘I have never had these items before in my life!’” says Yang. “And they love it.”
The SnowFlake, in particular, has quickly gained popularity. “Some people come to us every day,” says Yang, for the surprising fruit, coffee and milk variations. Yang sources seasonal fruits like peaches, strawberries and blueberries directly from the market for the SnowFlake’s toppings. The treats are popular enough that Yang has catered events and made custom flavors. “We even make a wine SnowFlake for private events!”
Their other flagship product, Carolina Pop Snacks, are puffed rice discs inspired by multigrain breakfast cereals. “It’s a different type of snack, but healthy,” says Yang. “We can add seasonal vegetables or fruits, like pumpkin or sweet potato and change the flavor.” The production line for Pop Snacks tends to draw spectators, the machine making a big “pop” sound every few seconds.
Yang says that Carolina Crispy Fry counts itself lucky that they were able to operate continuously through the spring. She credits the support from the State Farmers Market management team (“They are awesome!”) and their own, strict safety measures for helping her team adapt and stay healthy. One hurdle, though: up until the coronavirus hit, Carolina Crispy Fry had relied heavily on letting patrons sample pieces of Pop Snacks as they walked through the market—some- thing they can no longer do. The shop solved this issue by finding a way to pass out full-sized, sealed samples wrapped in cellophane. “It’s like giving people a small gift,” says Yang.
As the effects of the coronavirus recede and gatherings are possible once again, Yang hopes to continue growing her business by taking Carolina Crispy Fry to local events with “fresh, healthy, and delicious” fare. In fact, when posted up at North Carolina State Fair for the first time last year, Carolina Crispy Fry “gave away five to six thousand samples every day.” Until events are scheduled again, the business is focused on continuing to serve customers and innovate new menu items that offer fresh local produce and products.
Above all else, Yang wants to spread knowledge and fervor about the abundance of agricultural resources the state and city have to offer consumers. “I would like it if everyone shopped at the State Farmers Market,” she says. “And when you do, visit us to try a SnowFlake or a Pop Snack!”