Bright Side of (Downtown) Business: Moo Shu Ice Cream celebrates employees, community

Moo Shu Ice Cream
Moo Shu Ice Cream owner Liz Mok serves a sweet treat. (File photo)
Editor's Note

Editor’s Note: The Bright Side of (Downtown) Business, presented by Star Motors, highlights business success stories in Ottawa’s downtown.

Born as a Lansdowne Farmers Market stand in 2015, Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen has flourished to become a permanent downtown Bank Street fixture known for its inventive flavours, such as its popular Hong Kong Milk Tea or its local strawberry ice cream.

At the same time, Liz Mok, the visionary owner behind Moo Shu, has created a business that values both its employees and the community it serves. From ensuring her team is well-compensated and cared for, to facilitating a communal pay-it-forward system, Mok’s Bank Street ice cream shop on Bank near Flora Street is a successful socially-conscious business. 

When she started Moo Shu at age 24, Mok saw it as a summer enterprise. But as the business grew to require a brick-and-mortar space, she knew she wanted to create something that addressed some of the systemic issues she witnessed in the food industry. 

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

Mok recalls her own experience working in the food industry: poor pay, no benefits, and sick days that weren’t covered. She wanted to do something different at Moo Shu.

As a result, one of the pillars of her business model is a commitment to providing a living wage and benefits to employees. 

Even before the pandemic highlighted it as an issue, Mok had introduced paid sick days for her staff. She notes that, in the food industry, many employees come to work sick because they are not paid if they don’t log hours. That just makes others sick, she explains, and soon the entire team is sick, exhausted and demoralized. 

“As I started hiring, I realized what we need to work towards is something that can be built towards a career. So the first thing we put in was paid sick days. This is before even the discussion around paid sick days was more prominent,” Mok says.

Having paid sick days for her employees was personally important to her. 

“I remember the days where I needed the money. I was sick, so I couldn’t go in. I was both discouraged to come in and then also discouraged to take a day off,” she explains. “It becomes a spiral of, like, nobody ever gets a break because everybody’s working sick. So your batteries are at 50 per cent and you’re draining to like 20 per cent constantly. And then, even when you’re better, other people are sick. And so you’re working extra hard to make up work because they worked extra hard when you’re sick.

“So no one ever gets to recharge back up to 100 (per cent) because it’s just a constant cycle. So that was something I really wanted to do.”

Mok also paid staff for statutory holidays, something she, as a worker in the food industry, never received. 

“It wasn’t until I became a business owner and I learned the labour laws that I was like, oh, okay, I’ve been severely underpaid all this time. It’s actually illegal not to pay for stat holidays. But you’ll be surprised how many restaurants can get away with not paying those types of things because, realistically, it’s very easy to get away with it. When you have students, they don’t know what is their right.”

Remembering when she hadn’t been able to see a dentist for some time, Mok wanted to give employees benefits, recognizing that jobs in the food industry tend to be physical, with higher risk. Mok points out the irony that, during a brief stint as a government employee, she sat at a desk and received a full benefits package.

During the pandemic, Mok had honest discussions with her employees about their options, since Moo Shu was offering unpredictable hours and sometimes was not even allowed to open.

“When the government announced CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), we laid off everybody who wanted to be laid off. We did calculations where it was like, ‘Would you get more money if you were working for us, or would you be making more if you were on CERB?’ And we did the math and presented options for each individual to see this is what it would look like if you did CERB, and this is what it would look like if you stayed on. And it became their choice on whether they wanted to stay on or not.”

One of Mok’s community-oriented initiatives is the suspended scoop program, which has the goal of bridging the affordability gap. 

When ingredient and supply costs skyrocketed due to the pandemic and necessitated a price increase at Moo Shu, Mok knew there was a financial strain not only on her business, but also on the households of her employees and customers. The suspended scoop program asks higher-income customers to “pay forward” a scoop of ice cream for someone who might not be able to afford it.

Since January, there have been 3,000 suspended scoops purchased at Moo Shu. It is a way for people in the community to help others, Mok explains.

“When I first started the suspended scoop, I thought it would be a lot of kids (benefiting),” Mok says. “It’s actually a lot of adults and people who need help. On weekends, we don’t just offer our scoops, we allow people to get the warm bubble waffle cones as well. With suspended scoop program, they sometimes say, ‘Instead of a scoop, can I have a warm waffle?’”

Mok points out that Moo Shu is open late and six days a week, unlike many food banks. 

“It has also given us a tool to de-escalate situations,” she adds. “I think there’s a lot of things going on in our community and people are agitated. And we’ve been in a situation where we’ve been able to say, ‘Hey, you must be going through something right now, you’re taking it out on us, but can I offer you something free?’”

This column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer. Since 1957, Star Motors has provided its customers with the Mercedes-Benz “The Best or Nothing” standard in vehicle selection, service, genuine parts and certified collision repair. For your convenience, you may shop, research, chat and compare vehicles online at, visit the 400 West Hunt Club location or call (613) 737-7827 for the very best in personal service.

Get our email newsletters

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.