Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung own Sweet Republic, an ice-cream shop in Scottsdale. But they weren’t always entrepreneurs in the Arizona Desert, in another life; they worked for Citi Group as investment bankers in New York City.
Like many Americans, the tragedy of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 prompted them both to take a good hard look at where their lives were headed.
“9/11 was one of those events that affected everyone,” said Wichayanuparp. “It made me re-evaluate and think, is this really what I want to do?”
Wichayanuparp was in 7 World Trade Center when five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center and shortly after, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower.
She was evacuated from her building and later that afternoon, it collapsed from the weight of the debris.
Being so close to the towers that were hit and inside the third tower to collapse was an experience she’ll never forget, said Wichayanuparp.
“You have to take advantage of every moment and every opportunity you’re given in life. Because you never know when it all ends for you.”
In all, 2,977 people lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. It was an event that affected all Americans in some way, causing everyone to stop and look at where they were headed and why they were going in that direction.
After witnessing the attacks on the World Trade Centers first hand, Wichayanuparp and Yung decided that it was time for them to change direction, and do so in a big way.
In 2002 Yung left her job as a banker to attend Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school in Sydney, Australia. She then worked in a restaurant in Berkley, Calif. and began developing her own unique culinary style that included incorporating local ingredients into her food.
Wichayanuparp continued to work as a banker until the pair met up again in Hong Kong and decided to move to Scottsdale, where Wichayanuparp had family, in order to start their ice-cream shop.
“I have always been passionate about food, and I think that is where this stems from,” said Wichayanuparp.
Sweet Republic opened its doors in 2008, seven years after the events of 9/11. Now, the story of how the two ended up selling ice cream in Scottsdale is well known to employees and regular customers at Sweet Republic.
“9/11 was the catalyst for the owners to leave banking,” said Benita Sebastian, an employee at the shop. “They were so close to the World Trade Center when it happened. It still gives me chills when I think about their story.”
They have been holding the “first responder appreciation day” every year since the shop opened.
“I heard about it the first time four years ago when they started doing it,” said a paramedic enjoying his free scoop of ice cream on Sunday. “It’s just nice that they recognize some of the sacrifices that people make as we all recognize the sacrifices that were made that day ten years ago.”
Wichayanuparp and Yung have a special appreciation for the men and women that risk their lives for others every day.
“We got evacuated from the tower, and these were the guys going in when we were running out,” said Wichayanuparp.