Owner Casey New Orleans Snowballs Mars Chapman (Photo by Jana Bierschum)
What is the difference really? Between the so-called snowball and most other frozen water desserts available from trucks, trailers, and more permanent structures throughout this city in our hottest months? Isn’t it all just ice, ice, baby?
“The difference is in how they are made,” says Mars Chapman, the man who owns and operates Snowballs in Casey New Orleans, the small force of frozen desserts that has graced the intersection of Airport Avenue and 51st Street for more than two decades. “Traditionally you’d take ice cubes and put them in a machine that grinds them – so what you get are these little crunchy balls, basically. They don’t come together very well, and when you pour a syrup on them, most of them go straight down. Whereas we just take a block of ice and put it In a machine you shave it, and we make these little snowflakes, and so when we put them together in a cup it’s kind of like a sponge that holds the syrup and distributes it evenly throughout the whole glass — and that snow is super soft and velvety and it melts in your mouth. That’s the difference.”
The full story of how the beloved neighborhood icon came to be and how it has evolved over the years is linked at length on the company’s website, so we’ll explain it to you here. In 1996, Susie Casey Gallagher and Kate Thompson, a Louisiana couple, decided to repeat their family’s business at Metairie in Austin. “I think they had a trailer on Drag for a year or two, before they bought and refurbished where we currently are,” Chapman says. “I discovered this place in the 51st when I was under 10: My aunt brought me here a few times, and then I started coming Here with my mum and dad.”
Chapman’s mother and father—Patty Henderson and Cliff Chapman—were fascinated by the frozen curing business, its cool pleasures, and the welcoming community around it. “My dad got a job washing bottles here, and then learned how to make snowballs,” Chapman says. He eventually decided, with his employers’ blessing, to set up his own similar venue across town. “In 2000 we flew to Alabama to get a trailer, stopped in New Orleans and got supplies on the way back, well — you doubled from there.”
He. She doubledThe thirty-something man says with a serious smile and a pioneering flash in his eye. He remembers how his parents worked on their own trailer, called Raspas, on Anderson Lane for seven years, and he remembers what it was like growing up as part of that family business.
“My first job was to work with my parents, harvesting snow. And we started with a way — I’ll own this entirely — that wasn’t completely code compliant: We were making ice from our dining room. We had a commercial ice maker there, and his condenser was under the house. – We lived in a sidewalk and pack house in Hyde Park – and we had a deep freezer across from the entrance. So we’d also be there, making all the ice. And obviously you’re not supposed to – but that was many years ago. We haven’t I’ve been doing this for a long time since then – I want to be really clear about that!
Raspas was sold to a former employee in 2008 so Chapman’s parents could take over Casey’s from its original owners. Then, much time passed and the snowball-loving couple, Patti and Cliff, moved the company to their son Mars and longtime co-worker Kyle Littlepage. And now, at the end of the pandemic and the escalation of global warming, it’s just Mars Chapman as Chief Superintendent, overseeing a happy crew of snowmen in an open-only…seasonally?
“People always think we open our doors on Memorial Day,” Chapman says. “But we don’t open on March 1 or there. We stay open until Halloween. We’re closed four months out of the year and we’re open eight months.”
Is the crew happy though? They seem happy enough that they greet you at the window and take your request for something sweet and cold to soothe your senses caught up in the heat. But is Casey a good place to work? Chapman, who joined the company with progressive industry group Good Work Austin, tries to make sure of that. “We guarantee that all of our servers earn at least $15 an hour — they get a base pay and we collect tips by pay period. We add a highly subsidized primary care feature for our employees, so, say, $15 a month, they’ll be able to call a doctor. And yes, It’s just direct care, not health insurance – but Something. And I have a position that if a snowball shop can do it, why can’t someone else? If we can find a way, with this seasonal business model, to treat people well and provide subsidized healthcare, that’s what all businesses should do. Casey isn’t perfect anywhere, but we’ll always try to do the right thing if we can.”
And what is one of the healthiest things they can do for their clients? To offer a respite from the harsh Texas sun, we suggest—by continuing to serve up our favorite snowballs. What exactly?
Chapman appreciates this question, his taste buds obviously familiar with the pots he touts so vigorously. “The most popular flavors for the regular flavors are strawberry, pineapple, tiger’s blood – a mix of strawberry and coconut – and mango. Our most popular creamy flavor is strawberry cheesecake, which tastes just like you think, and everyone else is fighting for second place.”
Snowballs from Casey (Photo by Jana Bierschum)
Yes, let’s not forget those creamy flavors: It’s the not-so-secret weapon that sets Casey’s good range apart from so many others.
“Our creamy flavors are unique to us,” Chapman confirms. Typical of New Orleans, the flavors are creamy and sweet, and we offer multiple varieties: Orchid Cream Vanilla, which tastes like marshmallows in Lucky Charms; Dreamsicle, which is orange cream and vanilla bean; and Boston Cream Pie – this custard syrup covered in cream and chocolate dipped on top,which is my personal favorite.Custard is the most underappreciated flavor on our list.If you put custard and just about any other flavor,and a little bit of vanilla and cream,it will make a pie or cobbler or a muffin type [of] something. So if you take berries and sour apples and add them to that, you get that delicious apple pie flavor.”
Your reporter, having skipped lunch, is close to drooling at this point. This effect is mitigated, though, as it is, an ardent enemy of mint spicataThen suddenly notice that the flavor is listed under the noncreamy options in Casey’s menu.
What is this treachery? Why should there be some ugly serpent among the wonders of Snowball Paradise?
Chapman insists, “Mint is not going away, because this is a classic New Orleans flavor. And as long as we call Casey New Orleans snowballs, we’ll put it on the list. Because if someone came here from Louisiana, I’d be like, ‘You say you’re New Orleans Snowballs, but no mint? You are not real. So we keep it.”
They’ll keep the longtime store at 51 and the airport as well, though there are plans to remodel. And when – if, Chapman points out, because it depends on the money available — when the redesign is done, it won’t cut service like it does for other companies: because seasonality, remember? Remember, and in order to properly conclude this story, we had to ask. It’s not about any potential remodeling action, but just in general: What happens during the four months that Casey is closed?
“Yes, me He lives? Chapman replies.
And this place just… hung?
“This place is hanging on,” Chapman nodded. “And she sucks money – that’s what she does.
“When my mum and dad bought the business, they also bought the property. This is a blessing from heaven because of the cost between property taxes and the rent. Especially now, with my parents retired and not involved in the business at all, the fact that we pay them rent is a way for the money to stay in the family. Otherwise. , if we’re pushing that, it’s going to change the economic viability of the company dramatically.”
Chapman’s gaze shifts around the interior of his shop, to the front window and the line of customers outside, the stainless steel tables and carefully arranged drink bottles in the setting area, his snow shaving equipment and his boisterous crew of young workers. He smiles, nods, more satisfied than sad.
“No one gets rich making snowballs,” he says, “but it’s a nice quality of life.”
Snowballs in New Orleans by Casey
808 AH. 51
Daily from noon to nine in the evening