JoAnn Buday was stuck at home last July, recovering from a broken pelvis, when her 18-year-old daughter came home with news of a culinary creation she had just tried: a strawberry cheesecake "snoball."
It was a dessert that would change their lives.
“She came home so excited and just went on and on,” Buday said of her daughter, Zenna Hodge. “I had nothing to do but sit there and Google 'snoballs.' ”
Turns out they’re a frozen treat made of fluffy ice and flavorings often layered with soft-serve ice cream. The treat originated in New Orleans, where hundreds of stands dot the streets, and children and parents alike line up for relief from the Southern heat.
Anticipating her daughter’s graduation from Los Alamitos High School, Buday, 58, was already pondering opening a business. She had been a single mother for 16 years and was very involved in all of Hodge’s activities, including choir.
“I thought my life is going to come to a screeching halt. But now, my life is going faster than I thought it would,” she said.
She had looked into opening a Golden Spoon but found the market to be saturated. She looked into Yogurtland but found the franchise fee prohibitively expensive.
Enter the snoball—not to be confused with a snow cone.
Greg Darling, manager of Southern Snow, a snow machine and snoball flavor manufacturer said, “Our machine makes fine fluffy ice … snow cones have broken and chipped ice; that’s the main difference. Our flavors are more potent.” Southern Snow is based in Belle Chasse, LA, on the outskirts of New Orleans.
A snoball—"snoball" is the traditional spelling used all over New Orleans, Darling said—can be made either with ice cream or without. On the day this reporter was in the store, Austin Cussalli, a cook at Kinda Lahaina, ordered a Root Beer Float, which is one of SnoBiggie’s Mardi Gras Style treats. A snoball is built in layers. First, the fluffy ice is layered into the bottom, along with some root beer flavoring, then vanilla ice cream, then more ice and root beer flavoring. Condensed milk is dotted onto the top, and a dollop of vanilla ice cream finishes off the snoball.
“It’s like I put a root beer float in the freezer,” Cussalli said. “It’s very rich; I enjoy it. It’s simple too … it’s an interesting spin on an original idea.”
Cussalli visited the store with his friend, Jerry Zepeda, a hairdresser at Upstairs Downstairs Salon. “It’s delicious,” said the self-declared sweets connoisseur. “It tastes just like a strawberry shortcake.”
Eight-year-old Alydia Cotter visited the store with her father, Bruce. She ordered a strawberry snoball.
“It’s good,” she said. “I love it. I’m having them every day.”
SnoBiggie offers all the traditional fruit flavors like peach, orange and strawberry. It also offers flavor combinations including the Sunrise (cherry, lemon, orange) and the Mai Tai (pineapple, orange and passion fruit). The combinations with ice cream include concoctions like the German Chocolate Cake (wedding cake flavor, chocolate, coconut and chocolate ice cream), and Strawberry Short Cake (strawberry, wedding cake flavor, sweetened condensed milk and ice cream). Wedding cake is a sweet vanilla flavoring.
Buday said she found a company, SnoWizard, that would sell her a start-up package with all the flavorings, a snow-making machine and the cups. She eventually opted to use Greenware cups, which are compostable, rather than plastic-foam cups.
The location she found in the Pavilions shopping center on PCH and Main Street had been a Robeks smoothie store, so the counters, sinks and all the fixtures she needed for her snoball business were already in place.
All told, Buday spent about $10,000 to start up her business. Her single biggest expense was the ice cream machine, which she bought used for $3,000. She opened SnoBiggie in November. And while November might not be the most optimal time to open a business that tends to thrive in hot weather, Buday figures that by the time summer hits, her crew of nine part-time employees will be well-trained.
Business “looks promising,” said store manager Johnny Newnes. “On hot days, we’ve had a line go out the door.”
In areas outside of New Orleans, snoballs are “a unique product, and when you don’t have a lot of competition, unique products tend to do well and draw a lot of people,” said Darling of the Southern Snow company. Snoball stores in California have the distinct advantage of being able to stay open year-round, Darling said, as opposed to the stands in New Orleans, which are typically open from mid-March to mid-October.
Buday already is looking at opening two more locations. She hopes to open one more near Millikan High School in Long Beach and possibly one other in San Clemente.