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Covina Tasty: Soft-Serving The Community

Mark Tsai has been the owner and operator of Covina Tasty for more than 30 years. Moving here from his homeland of Taiwan made finding work a difficult task, but he always seemed to have a knack for ice cream.

In 1981, fearing the looming threat of Communism in his home country and seeking better opportunity, Tsai moved to Southern California eventually making his way to Covina where he began looking for work.

Covina Tasty owner Mark Tsai has been running  the Covina ice cream shop for more than 30 years. (Elizabeth Alcarez/Logos)
Covina Tasty owner Mark Tsai has been running the Covina ice cream shop for more than 30 years. (Elizabeth Alcarez/Logos)

“I had no money, poor English, and no work background. I knocked on every Tastee Freeze door until someone gave me a job. I took anything I could get.” Tsai said. Having little knowledge of America, let alone the American work force, made Tsai’s options very limited. He knew how to operate an ice cream machine and he knew how to clean, and that was more than enough for him.

Eventually, Tsai was hired by a small Tastee Freeze shop, where he worked 16 hour days, only getting paid $1.60 an hour, though the minimum wage at that  time was $3.35.

He did this for three whole years. It  was a struggle, but he never complained.

Tsai appreciated having a job and worked very hard at it. He saved as much money as he could, and all his hard work was paying off.  In 1984, the owner of Tasty Freeze in Covina finally retired.

Tsai saw his opportunity and bought the shop for himself, becoming the new owner of Tastee Freeze.

Eventually, Tastee Freeze became Covina Tasty, and even featured a brand new menu.

Tsai’s menu was, and is to this day, completely meat-free, making it one of the first vegetarian fast food restaurants in the United States.

The menu includes all kinds of fast food favorites, ranging from chili cheese dogs to “chicken” sandwiches, french fries, and burgers, none of which are cooked or prepared with animal meat or fat.

“I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life.” Tsai said. “Originally, I stopped eating meat for religious reasons, but I realized being vegetarian went beyond that. I needed to do it for my health.”

Though some customers aren’t used to an all vegetarian menu, the food isn’t often turned down. Business is booming, and Tasty has outlived all of it’s surrounding establishments, without even a single remodel.

Tsai recalls watching as the buildings in front of him went from a school to a shopping plaza. A lot of construction always happening, and faces coming and going.

Covina Tasty has a comforting charm. It’s quaint, happy, and filled with art. It’s a familiar spot for Covina and neighboring cities, and the name is often associated with positive thoughts and memories, which is why it has stood for so long.

Tasty’s customers seem to appreciate the simplicity of the shop and menu. Though of course minor changes have been made here and there, it’s a dependable place for a good time and an even better sweet fix.

Tsai has even had customers visit after 20 years, going out of their way to see if the shop still stands, and always leaving pleasantly surprised when they find it is.

For years people have enjoyed his famous sundaes and banana splits, and are now enjoying new items, such as boba tea and coffee fraps. Though his most popular item, for as long as he can remember, are his delicious dipped cones. The ice cream comes in three classic flavors; vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate, and a variety of delightful dip flavors and toppings are available to choose from.

After a long career of serving the community Tsai plans to retire in the next year or two with hopes that the legacy of his mission will live on. “I may not  always be here, but Tasty will stay.”

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