New Orleans Sno-Balls

New Orleans Sno-Balls Intro Photo

First things first: a New Orleans sno-ball is not a snow cone, a pre-frozen, rock-hard concoction like those sold from ice cream trucks and concession stands elsewhere. As each of our New Orleans Sno-Balls oral history subjects attest, New Orleans sno is a product of locally made, carefully stored, and expertly shaved-to-order ice. The sugary syrups that color and flavor a New Orleans sno-ball are equally important to the final product, and each sno-ball maker protects his own syrup recipes. In fact, a majority of the recipes at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz in Uptown, Williams Plum Street Snowballs near Riverbend, and Sal’s Sno-Balls in Old Metairie have survived several generations of stand ownership.

As you might expect to find in a subtropical city, New Orleans’ flavored ice tradition dates back to a time when vendors shaved the ice by hand and carried just a small selection of flavorings. “Tee Eva” Perry remembers choosing between just strawberry, spearmint, and pineapple syrups to flavor the coarse scraped ice at her neighborhood stand. Then, in the 1930s, two sno-ball pioneers—George Ortolano and Ernest Hansen—independently built the city’s first electric ice-shaving machines. While a version of the Ortolano machine is still produced and sold by George’s descendents at the company SnoWizard, Ernest Hansen built his machines primarily for personal use. His legacy is in the family sno-ball stand, still run today by his granddaughter, Ashley Hansen.

Ortolano, Hansen, Eisenmann, Dennery—tied to New Orleans’ first sno-ball machines and extracts, these names are spoken again and again in our interviews. They are the people who helped turn New Orleans into what Bubby Wendling at Southern Snow Manufacturing calls the world’s sno-ball Mecca.

In spite of the sno-ball’s nostalgic appeal, flavor innovation is rampant. You’ll hear Claude and Donna Black talking about concocting Plum Street’s new king cake flavor. Steven Bel’s customers at Sal’s are stuffing orange dreamsicle sno-balls (a recent addition) with soft-serve ice cream. Bubby Wendling makes a novelty buttered popcorn extract. And Dylan Williams goes entirely new-school by flavoring his sno with minimally sweetened fresh-fruit juices.

These interviews only scratch the surface of New Orleans’ sno-ball culture, which is as varied and deep as the city’s neighborhoods. But one sentiment, one word, arose during nearly every one, at least where the sno-balls themselves were concerned: “Fun.”

Interviews

Beaucoup Juice - Dylan Williams - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Beaucoup Juice

Dylan Williams was in phone and internet sales before travels to Central and South America convinced him that New Orleans needed a quality, affordable juice and smoothie shop. An experienced salesman familiar with the New Orleanian proclivity for eating sweetened ice, he recognized the merit of adding fresh-fruit sno-balls to the menu at Beaucoup Juice (pronounced New Orleans-style, as BOO-koo).

Cristina Ice Service - Kenny Cristina and David Romig - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Cristina Ice Service

Cousins David Romig and Kenny Cristina began working in the family icehouse, Cristina Ice Service, in the 1960s, as pre-teens. The fourth generation to work in the business, they started on the receiving platform during summer breaks for 25-cents an hour—plus unlimited sno-balls.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz - Ashley Hansen - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

The story of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz is the sort that New Orleanians love to tell. It involves a business built and sustained by three generations of one New Orleans family, it has a welcome post-Katrina happy ending despite some tragic twists, and its core narrative is all about sweetness.

Sal’s Sno-Balls - Steven Bel - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Sal’s Sno-Balls

Steven Bel was 8 years old when he started working at Sal’s Sno-Balls, the neighborhood stand that “Mr. Sal” Talluto opened half a block from Steven’s family home in 1959. Steven met his future wife, Gretchen, there when they were both just 11. By the time he was 17, he had started his own ice-delivery business with Sal’s as one of his clients. At 25, he bought the place.

Southern Snow Manufacturing - Bubby Wendling - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Southern Snow Manufacturing

Beginning during the Depression era, Simeon Clement shaved ice by hand at Clement’s Sweet Shop in Algiers, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. More than 80 years later, Simeon’s grandson, Bubby Wendling, runs one of largest sno-ball supply businesses in the world.

Tee Eva’s Pralines & Pies - Tee Eva Perry - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Tee Eva’s Pralines & Pies

Though she worked in food service for many years in her earlier adulthood, Eva Perry’s professional life didn’t blossom until 1989, when at 55 years old she established Tee Eva’s Pralines & Pies. It was while watching the Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme blackening redfish on television that she realized that she, too, had a culture and a talent to market.

Williams Plum Street Snowball - Claude and Donna Black - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Williams Plum Street Snowball

Claude Black didn’t intend to enter the sno-ball business. And then, in 1979, his dad called to announce that he had bought his son Plum Street Snowballs. Fortunately it came with recipes. Claude and his wife, Donna, renamed the business Williams Plum Street Snowballs after the stand’s original owner, Sydney Williams, who opened it in 1945.