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Kow Kow’s expansion from food truck to store front

Bubble waffles, ice cream specials on Ives St.

<p>The combination of Kow Kow’s ice cream specials and pillowy bubble waffles drizzled in sauce makes for a delicious treat.</p>

The combination of Kow Kow’s ice cream specials and pillowy bubble waffles drizzled in sauce makes for a delicious treat.

On even the coldest winter nights, when the ground is slick with ice and snow banks bury the sidewalk, Kow Kow provides eager crowds of customers with ice cream and bubble waffle cones. 

With its Instagram-worthy ice cream cones and rich flavors drizzled in sauce, Kow Kow has become a spot for date nights or hanging out with friends and family. 

To owner Vilada Khammahavong, known to everyone as “Vi,” the store’s opening in April 2021 was like a birthday present. Kow Kow’s storefront opening on 120 Ives St. was not just on Khammahavong’s birthday, but it was also a milestone in the growth of her business. 

Khammahavong launched Kow Kow as a food truck on Waterman St. three and a half years ago, during her gap year between undergraduate and graduate school; but she ended up finding her calling while running the business.


“It was really just supposed to be a passion project, but I ended up really loving it and it was taking off,” Khammahavong said. “So I continued to grow and go down that path of the business.”

Although Khammahavong initially wanted to serve noodles from the truck, she found that it wasn’t very feasible given the truck’s limited space. Instead, she pivoted to making bubble waffles and combined them with her favorite treat —  ice cream. The result is a unique but satisfyingly sweet combo, she said.

“I switched gears to something else that was really close to me, and that was the bubble waffles,” Khammahavong said. 

Through Kow Kow, Khammahavong not only shares her childhood memories but also her cultural heritage. As Khammahavong shared, the word “kow” has a double meaning in Lao, her family’s native language. Kow, which literally means rice, can also mean “food” or “come eat,” since rice is a staple with every meal.

“I wanted to integrate some of my culture into the business, and when we emphasize things in our language, we say things twice, so that’s why I said ‘Kow Kow,’” Khammahavong said. “Also, it’s just easy to say,” she added with a laugh.

Opening a food truck wasn’t as simple as she anticipated, but she found her footing over time.

As the Kow Kow truck became increasingly busy, Khammahavong felt the business “hit a ceiling” of what they could accomplish with just a truck. While thinking about opening a store, Khammahavong stumbled upon a sign advertising a location for rent on Ives St.

“That location opened up maybe a month after I made that decision that we should grow the business,” Khammahavong said. “I think it was just meant to be.”

Since then, Kow Kow has shared ice cream flavors ranging from matcha to s’mores to strawberry shortcake, all encased in a pillowy bubble waffle drizzled in chocolate, hazelnut or condensed milk sauces.

“I like Kow Kow because there’s similar places back home in NYC in Flushing and Manhattan, and … it’s hard to find Asian desserts other than Ceremony in Providence,” wrote Jackie Cho ’24 in a message to The Herald. “I appreciate how close to campus it is. I used to go occasionally in the summer whenever I’m craving an egg waffle or just as a hangout spot with friends.”


According to Leiyana Pereira, who has worked at Kow Kow since the summer of 2019, Kow Kow serves many Brown and RISD students as well as local residents. Pereira, who was among the first hired outside of Khammahavong’s friends and family, found the work environment very friendly. “It seems like a very intimate workplace,” Pereira said. “Feels more like family than just coworkers.”

Looking forward, Khammahavong hopes to grow her business even further. “I hope to open a second store in Rhode Island soon, probably in South County,” Khammahavong said. “We do have some customers down there that I’m sure would appreciate not having to truck up to Providence to have Kow Kow.”

“A longer term goal is to, if possible, have at least one Kow Kow in each state in New England,” Khammahavong said. “Hopefully we can have that come to fruition.”

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Ashley Guo

Ashley Guo is an arts & culture writer and layout designer. She previously covered city and state politics as a Metro section editor. In her free time, Ashley enjoys listening to music, swimming, and reading!

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