It has taken Ken Wheeler years to come up with the recipe for a perfect snow cone — a blend of flavored sugar syrup and crushed ice.
“I got them to where they’re so addictive,” he said. Wheeler has used his artistic background to create new techniques and flavors for his shaved ice.
About 15 years ago, Wheeler grew tired of his two sons begging him to take them for snow cones every day. He bought a simple snow cone machine and put it in his small shop on West Gentry Parkway, where he sold his artwork. His sons, Brandon, 23, and Jazmine, 22, would stand outside with a “free snow cone” sign and loved it when people drove up for the sweet treats, he said.
Through the years, the snow cones have evolved into a business — Sno Balls — during the spring and summer months for Wheeler.
Wheeler, 52, said his sons never had a spring break or summer vacation because he always put them to work selling snow cones, but now they thank him because they know how to work. Jazmine Wheeler still helps out at the stand, along with Wheeler’s wife, Cherlynn Wheeler, and his stepson, Chris Johnson, 19.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the summer,” Wheeler said. “I’d go stir crazy. I was put on this Earth to do this … and paint.”
Wheeler grew up in Broken Bow, Okla., and has been into art since he was a child. He moved to Tyler in 1988 to help a friend paint refurbished tractors in Noonday and soon started painting windows for local businesses, he said.
Wheeler still makes artwork, including African art and glazed bathtubs and sinks sold out of a shop adjoining the snow cone stand. He has also been painting Christmas scenes on business storefronts for more than 20 years. He said painting windows for the holidays is his forte and he still does a lot of the businesses here.
But during the spring and summer months, it is all about snow cones.
“I dream about these snow cones,” Ms. Dixon said, adding that she started bringing her three sons, now grown, when Wheeler first opened the stand. “It cools me off.”
Ms. Dixon said she was hooked on the grape flavor for a while, until she started ordering cherry limeade. Now, rootbeer is her all-time favorite. “It’s off the chain,” she said.
BranDayla Dixon just finished the first grade at Caldwell Elementary School and is glad to be out for the summer. She plans to swim and play and turns 7 in two weeks, she said.
“They’re good,” she said of the snow cones. Sipping on a wedding cake snow cone Wednesday, she couldn’t come up with a favorite flavor.
SyDora Crowder stood silently, concentrating on eating her banana flavored ice.
Wheeler said the syrup goes directly to the brain and he believes there’s a part of everyone’s brain that craves sugar. Wheeler said he enjoys watching the reactions of his customers as they try out a new flavor.
Sno Balls also offers flavors such as Georgia peach, ice tea, apple pie, strawberry daiquiri with mango, peach daiquiri and banana bubble gum. Wheeler likes to have fun with some of the names, such as “snoop fizzle dizzle,” a strawberry kiwi mixed with margarita, and the “blue eagle,” also known as “baby daddy,” which has a coconut twang to it, he said.
Wheeler also offers clear flavors for customers who work in banks and hospitals who don’t want to go back to work with a blue tongue, he said. “I get a wide range of customers,” he said, adding that he sees law enforcement officers, lawyers and doctors come by regularly.
“The reason we’re popular here is because we have $1 snow cones,” Wheeler said. “You can go every day” because of the prices.
Wheeler remembers as a child selling coke bottles and looking for change on the street. By the end of the day, he would have enough money to buy a snow cone, he said.
Snow cones at Sno Balls range from an 8-ounce for $1 to a 32-ounce for $3.50.
The snow cone season is from April through September, and the first three months are the busiest, especially when children get out of school for the summer, Wheeler said.
“When spring comes (people) have a tendency to want sweet stuff,” he said. But as the Texas heat gets too hot for some to bear, business tends to slow down in late summer.
Wheeler said he sees customers from South Tyler and Troup, as well as a lot of people from Lindale.
“They’ll be sitting here waiting,” when he opens the store, he said.
“This is tons of fun for me,” he said. “But there is a lot of work involved.”
Her daughter worked at a stand in Gladewater, and when the owners were getting out of the business, Mrs. Pierce bought it 13 years ago. Eight years ago, she opened a second shaved ice shop in Gilmer, followed by the one on East Fifth Street in Tyler two years ago.
“It’s a pretty good business,” she said Tuesday. “We stay pretty busy.”
Out of the 100 flavors Shivers offers, Mrs. Pierce’s favorite is the ice cream with homemade cream, which she said is wonderful.
“Their eyes get so big,” Mrs. Pierce said of the children who come to her stands for snow cones. “They’re such a joy.”
She said the adults are fun, too, and she has a lot of regular customers at each of her shops.
“I love the business,” she said.
Shivers Snack Shack in Tyler offers more than snow cones. The red shop with a drive-thru also sells nachos, sausage on a stick, hot links, pretzels and smoothies. The Gladewater store is open year-round, while the other two are open from March through September, Mrs. Pierce said, adding that she will try to keep the Tyler shop open later this year.
“This year has been a really busy year,” Mrs. Pierce said. “It’s a lot better than last year.”
Mrs. Pierce runs the Gladewater store during the first part of the season but lets her employees work more during the summers.
Like Wheeler’s, Mrs. Pierce’s business is a family affair.
Her daughter, Shanna, and her granddaughter, Jordan, help her at the shop in Gladewater while her son Coy, helps out in Tyler and her grandson Cody works at the Gilmer shop. The Tyler stand has about six employees.