There’s No Business Like Snow Business
As operator of the Snowie mobile snow cone bus, Belinda Augusta has the coolest job.
Belinda Augusta is used to inquisitive glances from other motorists when she drives. She sees that glimmer in their eyes, watches their laughter. Sometimes, she pulls off the road so curious people can look closer at her Chevy Express van with its custom fiberglass kit. No harm in a little PR.
It happens every day, mile after adventuresome mile, from home base in Riegelwood to stops in Brunswick County and beyond. And another one honks. And another one stares. Another one likes the bus.
“When we drive down the road, people will roll down their windows and ask to take pictures,” she says. “So you will see me sometimes pull over in the weirdest places. And we get a thumbs-up and honked at all the time. It’s a lot of fun.”
Belinda drives the Snowie of The Carolinas bus, a big, bright yellow mobile snow cone kitchen with vibrant red, blue and green accents. The Snowie bus visits daycares, private schools, special events at stores and other happenings where flavored ice should be a staple.
It’s the rolling, five-star dining experience of snow cone menu options. Perhaps some Tiger’s Blood (strawberry and coconut combo) today? Or a Blue Dragon (very berry fruit punch)? Maybe something in a Rock ‘n Roll (red and blue raspberry), or Angel Food Cake (wedding cake and wild cherry) or Popeye (Hawaiian tropic and peach). “I think some people order for the name,” Belinda says. “We do a lot of Mango Tangos.”
How did it evolve that a woman in her 50s is making a work week out of making people happy?
Rewind a few years, when Belinda and her husband, Jim Augusta, were in Salt Lake City, where Jim was stationed at Hill Air Force Base 30 miles up the road in Roy. Salt Lake is the home of the original Snowie. Jim and Belinda saw the bus and the kiosks in town and proceeded to investigate. “And we thought, why not? So we decided to buy a bus,” Belinda says.
A $90,000 investment got a customized Chevy Express and start-up supplies. The bus comes fully equipped with a shaver, deep freeze and enough operating ingredients for six months. When materials run low, they order from a man who runs Snowie of Cincinnati. “They flat-bedded our bus here from Utah, and the driver said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I had hundreds of people taking pictures of the bus. I’ve never had that much interest!’” Their first full year with Snowie of the Carolinas was 2016.
Belinda adds that the Snowie 3000 shaver, “produces the fluffiest ice possible. Not chunks, like some snow cone vendors. It’s light as snow.”
And that’s the secret ingredient: Ice, ice baby!
“We buy our ice from Piggly Wiggly,” she says. “There’s a particular kind of ice cube we use, and theirs is shaped a certain way and it shaves better.”
The bus holds 300 pounds of ice.
“We have run out of ice at events, and we’ve had to run over to Piggly Wiggly in the golf cart and buy ice. It happens.”
Belinda used to sell insurance. Jim still wears a suit and tie weekdays for his job with a freight-forwarding company near the Port of Wilmington, but he joins the Snowie tour on weekends. Jim’s sister, Donna Markham, is a silent partner.
The joy comes from seeing kids’ faces and from parents who remember the clangity-clang of frozen treat trucks through their neighborhoods, long ago. A small cone is $3, medium is $4, and a King Kong Snowie is $5, with $3 refills.
But The Snowie isn’t limited to places with children.
“We do weddings,” Belinda says. “We also do adult beverage parties, so we provide the snow cone and they provide the toppings. They’re proving to be very popular.”
Large festivals pay a vendor fee. A birthday party is $150 plus tax for an hour of bus time and includes 25 8-ounce Snowies and a King Kong for the birthday person.
Belinda also takes the bus to nursing homes, which provides a whole other type of joy. “I sit with the residents, and they say, ‘You’re really bringing a lot of nostalgia back for me. Thank you so much. I haven’t had a snow cone in ages.’”
She recalls a recent talk with a resident who told the story of her father taking her and a sister to see a man at the grocery who sold shaved ice. If she and her sister behaved, they could have some. “I’m so glad I brought back that memory,” Belinda says. “I told Jim, as much as I love being with the kids, this is really great. It’s a different aspect people don’t really think about.”
The Augustas run the bus from March through October, and Belinda says she may expand to open a kiosk, but she isn’t sure where. Her son, Spencer Sommervold, will run it. But that’s later. For now, there are places to go and snow cones to serve. Like at the upcoming Brunswick County Fall Festival at the Government Center in October. “We usually hand out about 1,000 to 1,200 snow cones out there,” Belinda says.
Nothing like a cold King Kong on a fall day.
“I came from corporate America and I’ll never go back,” Belinda says. “I get up every morning and I have fun. I want this to be fun for people. I want you to have a smile on your face.”
Which, next to the bus, would be a pretty cool photo.