Bob Warren becomes very modest when talking about the snow cone business he’s been operating in Pontotoc for 23 years.
“To me, it’s just a cup of ice with juice poured over it,” he said. “I’ve never eaten anybody else’s snow cone, so I can’t say, but people tell us how good ours are.”
Like Braden Bishop of Tupelo, who grew up in Pontotoc.
“I can vividly remember my mom taking me to his shoppe and getting a rainbow snow cone almost every summer day around 3 or 4 o’clock after swimming at the city pool,” said Bishop, 28, a teacher at Tupelo High School. “There were sometimes as many as 15 to 20 people waiting in line in the 95-plus degree heat to just get his snow cones.”
One morning last week, Warren opened the window on his 8×8-foot stand at 10 o’clock. By 10:10, he’d already had five customers.
“Everybody likes to come at the same time,” the 63-year-old said. “They line up out there in the heat. I don’t know how they do it. Nobody ever complains, though. Very seldom do they get tired of waiting and walk away. I’ve seen people wait close to an hour, or a good 45 minutes at least.”
There’s a good reason people don’t mind waiting for these sweet summer treats: quality and consistency.
“We don’t cut corners here,” he said. “We don’t dilute our syrup or use less sugar. All the corners you cut will eventually catch up to you. And it don’t matter if they’re lined up to the street out there, we don’t get in a hurry. We try to make each snow cone as good as the next one.”
Warren and his wife of almost 43 years, Barbara, bought The Sno Shoppe in 1988 from a man who wanted to get out of the business.
“He showed us how to make one snow cone and then he turned it over to us,” Warren recalled, laughing. The Warrens have been in the same location – next door to Hardee’s on Highway 15 North – since they took over the business.
Other snow cone stands have come and gone over the years. Warren said a couple of years ago, there may have been as many as five in town.
So, how come those didn’t last and he did?
“Because those people have better sense than we do,” he said. “This is lots of work. You’re on your feet all day. And then you go home and make syrup and wash sticky jugs. We try to watch the 10 o’clock news and then we’re up at 6:30 in the morning, going at it again.”
The Warrens, who live in the Toxish commuity between Pontotoc and Houlka, also try to juggle family time with their son, Dusty, and their grandchildren, 14-year-old Taylor and 12-year-old Daniel.
On a busy day at the height of summer, Warren and his employees, Morgan Wilson and Candi Walker, might serve 150 customers.
“On those days, you have to eat your dinner one bite at a time,” he said. “But I have sat up here all day and not sold $10 worth. In this business, you count your pennies, not your dollars.”
On slow days, Warren’s been known to sit in the shop and write country and gospel music.
“I try to get people to record them and I’ve had a lot of people to record them,” he said. “There’s not much money in it, though. I wrote a song about Algoma USA and Jill Foster sung it and put it on tape.”
26 different flavors
The Sno Shoppe offers a variety of flavors, such as grape, banana, cotton candy, strawberry daiquiri, bubble gum, wedding cake, green apple, peach and orange. The most popular flavor is plain old strawberry.
“We have 26 flavors and variations off of them, so all together, we have about 30 flavors,” he said. “And that’s about 25 too many.”
Prices range from $1 for a mini to $2 for a large. A cream topping is 50 cents extra.
“More than half the people that come here get the cream,” said Barbara Warren, who was helping out on her day off.
Warren estimated he goes through 300 pounds of sugar and 25 blocks of ice in a busy week.
“People drive from all over – Tupelo, Oxford, New Albany, Okolona, Bruce – to get a snow cone or at least that’s what they say anyway,” he said.
“A woman yesterday came by from Virginia and we had a carload from Georgia and one from Chicago. People who used to live here come by wanting one of our snow cones. Or people who live here who used to come as kids are now bringing their kids.”
One day last week, Derrick Thompson pulled up with 8-year-old Christian Thompson. The two visit the stand just about every day in the summer.
Derrick ordered a tutti-frutti snow cone, while Christian requested banana.
The two then proceeded to argue over which flavor was better.
“How do you know tutti-frutti is better if you’ve never tasted the banana?” Christian asked.
“Well, then, I need to taste your banana,” Derrick countered good-naturedly.
The two stepped aside as two more regulars customers lined up at the window to place their orders.
“Customers are just like family here,” Warren said. “We see them every day. I don’t reckon we’ve had no trouble out of anybody. But every year, we say this is going to be our last. We’re saying that this year, too.”
The Sno Shoppe
Where: Highway 15 North, next to Hardee’s.
When: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5:30 p.m. Open from March to September.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal