Ice cream
Ice cream
Ice cream

Lois Ko pushes the envelope on unique flavors at the University District's sweetest spot, Sweet Alchemy.

By Aleenah Ansari | Photo by David Oh | May 29, 2024

Few things are as joyful as getting ice cream. It’s usually a call for celebrating, catching up with friends or getting a sweet treat after a long day. Lois Ko, ’04, and her ice cream business, Sweet Alchemy, have been a cornerstone of the University District for years, and we asked Ko more about how being an artist informs her work, what inspires new flavors and why it’s important to dream big.

Where did your love of ice cream begin?

I started working as a scooper at the ice cream shop that is now home to Sweet Alchemy’s University District location. I loved that getting ice cream is such a joyous activity where people are usually celebrating something. After owning the shop as a franchisee, I decided to spend a year making ice cream at home, starting with a London Fog flavor. It made me realize that I could offer something different to Seattle. 

I ended up taking a food science course at Penn State. Fast forward to 2016, when I opened the first Sweet Alchemy location at the University of Washington. I feel like the Ave is my second home, and I love being part of the neighborhood and supporting its longevity.

How does your identity as an artist inform your work?

Art taught me to be courageous. If I have a vision, I’ll use whatever medium to bring it to life the same way I do through art printing, pottery or watercolor. The same goes for ice cream. The learning curve of making ice cream was pretty steep, but I was used to doing things over and over to get better at them as an artist. It was really rewarding to see my progress. Now, what used to take me 14 hours can now be done in four hours.

Why is it important to you to use organic ingredients, most of which are sourced within 100 miles of our storefront?

When I started making ice cream, I found that using fresh ingredients made such a difference in flavor. Plus, we’re surrounded by so many local farms and farmer’s markets, which are the best places to buy things—like dairy from Pete’s Milk Delivery, strawberry from farms in Skagit Valley, lavender from Purple Robe, honey from the UW Center for Urban Horticulture and more.

How do you come up with new flavors?

Our ice cream flavors are inspired by a lot of different things, whether it’s customer feedback, collaborations with local businesses or new ingredients from a farmer we work with. This has led to flavors like Persian Rose, Strawberry Shortcake and Ambrosia made with goat’s milk and olive oil. One of my favorites is Mint Chip, which we make with mint from my dad’s backyard that we steep in milk, strain, and infuse into the ice cream base.

You’ve grown from one store in the University District to four across Seattle and Bellevue. What does it mean to you to see how far you’ve come?

I was an art major, so I never expected to become an entrepreneur. I learned the importance of asking for advice from other small business owners, and being open to feedback and suggestions from customers. Running a business is a 24-hour job, but I still try to make myself available to answer questions and pay it forward.

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are still finding their way?

You’ll never be prepared for every obstacle, but you will learn as you go. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, whether it’s through education or investing in high-quality tools and equipment. If you’re dreaming of what you can create as an entrepreneur, not even the sky is the limit.

Check out Sweet Alchemy on their website and Instagram.

About the author: Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who’s rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She writes about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdie, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals, reading a book by a BIPOC author, or planning her next trip to New York. You can learn more at