Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2016 in the Venice Gondolier’s Women in Business special edition as well as Englewood Sun, Sue Wade wrote a glowing tribute to Real New Orleans Snoballs. I can’t link the article due to the Sun Newspaper Group’s website constraints, here it is as published in the Englewood Sun.
Life offered her a Sno Queen’s chance
By SUE WADE
Mary Auen brings sweet tastes of NOLA to Southwest Florida.
Some foods say “New Orleans” like no others. And gumbo, po’ boys, crawfish and beignets got nothin’ on Snoballs, those sweet ice treats.
The more hellish the weather, the better a New Orleans snoball’s chances.
Case in point: When the mercury hits 100, and Spanish moss hangs limp from the live oaks, lines start forming down South Main Street, leading to Babe’s.
Everybody in St. Martinville, La. knows the aquamarine cinder- block stand, beribboned with candy colors and built like a prow off the front of Edward “Babe” Robertson’s house. Babe’s, which dates to 1949, is one of dozens of shops selling snoballs in Louisiana, and among the oldest.
A whole culture has grown around frozen treats like Babe’s, so they have to be made just right.
No hard, gritty chunks in a watery bath of slush, these. Snoballs done right are, in fact, like snowballs, as powdery as winter’s first snowfall, rich with syrup, and so intense in hue that they’ll turn your tongue any color of the rainbow, for hours.
They’re called many names — snoball, snocone, the hyphenated sno-ball and sno-cone, too. That the Babe’s sign advertises “Sno-Cones” might be considered a travesty by true snoball aficionados. Authentic New Orleans shaved ice concoctions are snoballs — their proper name ever since shaved-ice machines were invented in Depression-era New Orleans.
Auen knows all this.
The Louisiana native has, for the last three years, sold New Orleans snoballs, as real as Babe’s, out of an appropriately retro, red-white-and-blue box trailer—The Sno Queen.
It’s a whimsical corner of New Orleans that opens most afternoons at 180 N. Indiana Ave., between Café 776 and The Pasty Shop in Englewood.
Auen believes in getting everything about her snoballs right.
Their texture comes from a Southern Snow ice machine manufactured in Belle Chasse. Their taste comes from pure cane-sugar syrups mixed with concentrates from a half-century-old New Orleans supplier — plus egg custard and Skylite (a Maryland mash-up of bubble-gum cotton candy and vanilla), flavors out of Baltimore.
And the warm charm of an Acadiana neighborhood snoball stand comes straight from the heart of the Sno Queen herself, who greets each customer with a wide smile and “How’re you doing?”
For a while, snoballs didn’t look as if they’d be her destiny. But given Auen’s roots in the bayous of Baldwin, La. there’s symmetry in her return to a childhood favorite that was also her daughters’ and her grandchildren’s favorites.
Auen arrived in Florida 19 years ago, then lived in Venice and North Port. She loved the area at once and tried her hand at a variety of trades, always gravitating toward those in which she could take pride.
“While living in Venice, I worked for lawyers,” she explains, in a refined, musical drawl. “Then, because any Southern woman can decorate, I worked for a little custom decorating shop. I’m an artist, I can sew and at that shop we turned out work that I could be proud of.”
Furniture sales followed, but Auen admits, “I don’t have the aggressive personality for commission sales. I could sell Tempur-Pedic mattresses like they were going out of style. They used to call me the Tempur-Pedic Queen. I had no problem selling anything that I believed in like that, so I was No. 1 in mattresses. My other numbers were terrible, though, so they eventually fired me.
“But all of it led me here.”
With a few dollars in her pocket, she drove up and down U.S. 41, here and there, Venice, Port Charlotte, Englewood, scanning the storefronts, during a year and a half when she basically didn’t do much else.
Hedging bets, she went to State College of Florida for paralegal studies. She loved school, but missed the passion.
“What passes for Cajun/ Creole food around here isn’t to my taste, so I thought about doing a gumbo-po’ boy shop in a storefront. But I was getting scared. I had only so much to live on before I’d have to start making money again. I’m not independently wealthy, and Prince Charming wasn’t coming to rescue someone as long in the tooth as I am,” she laughs.
She traveled a bit, which of course meant Louisiana and snoballs. Then she Googled “snoballs” and realized that investing in a trim little trailer for just such a thing was more feasible than setting up shop in a high-overhead storefront.
She had her trailer custom- made and — being an artist — designed it herself. “Now it’s my home away from home,” she says. She also has a smaller “Sno 2 Go” traveling unit for parties.
“I never thought I’d be doing this, working for myself. Aug. 2, 2013, was my first official day to take money for making a childhood memory!”
Three years later, “This is the happy zone,” she said. All it takes is $2.
But her happy zone extends beyond Englewood.
Auen said she’s scheduled to cater a wedding rehearsal party on Sept. 23 on Nokomis Beach. She’s catered an employee appreciation afternoon for several doctors in Nokomis and in Venice. She also knows numerous people who drive from Venice, Nokomis and Osprey “for my snoballs.”
“I have inspections, rent, supplies and insurance to pay for, but I’m still comfortable with my pricing and convinced I can make a viable living at it,” she said.
Though she must follow Sarasota County food truck rules — staying 750 feet away from other mobile vendors and 800 [**see note below] feet from brick-and-mortars — Auen says, “I’m not your typical food truck. You’ll never see me selling nachos, hot dogs, pretzels, or tacos. Go to Publix to get your hot dogs, I tell everyone.
“I’ve had to educate people about snoballs,” she adds, artfully chugging out a made-to-order example.
Locals have come to crave her fluffy snow, drizzled with 65 syrups as diverse as Orchid Vanilla, Tiger Blood (strawberry and coconut), and Cajun Red Hot, whose flavors last all the way down to the bottom of the cup. Top it with sweetened condensed milk for flavor nearly as rich as ice cream.
Even the ice is special, triple-filtered and molded specifically for her machine by Nice Ice of Englewood.
“Summer is my season for snoballs, because snoballs are for hot weather,” she said. “Cooler weather is not good for me. In a frigid 68 degrees, you’re wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, and you won’t want snoballs.”
Because she sells more snoballs during the summer offseason, “I consider locals my customers, and any tourists who’ve found me are icing on the cake,” she said. She still gets new Englewood customers who tell her they’ve always been meaning to stop by, and finally did.
Regulars sometimes confess, shamefaced and breathless, “We went somewhere else. I’m not gonna tell you where. My mother had a coupon. It was Mother’s Day. I’m so sorry! I felt like I was two-timing you!”
She simply replies, disarming as ever, “Can I make you my favorite? Today it’s Snow Angel, apple with a trace of grape. You might like Loopy Angel, too!”
The Sno Queen is open Wednesday to Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m., weather conducive. Mary always watches the Doppler and makes the open-or-closed call on The Sno Queen’s Facebook page.
**Note from me – Sarasota County has an 800′ rule which means since I’m within 800′ of a brick and mortar restaurant I must obtain notarized permission from the owners, which I did.
Sarasota Herald Tribune click here.
And here in SRQ magazine.
I always appreciate a good word or two from you on Trip Advisor or Yelp. You’d be surprised what a difference it makes to people who aren’t familiar with The Sno Queen when they read a positive review of what I offer.