CEDAR RAPIDS — Few things can take the edge off the midsummer heat like a cup of shaved ice dissolving under a splash of fruit-flavored syrup.
Just ask the 15 people who turned up Monday afternoon, when the high was 88 degrees, to get snow cones at the Fruitzen stand in the Hy-Vee parking lot near Lindale Mall on Collins Road.
“I’m on maternity leave, and this has been my treat every few weeks,” said Monica Steffeck, 25, of Cedar Rapids, who ordered the Blue Hawaii (blue raspberry, pineapple and dash of coconut) with strawberry.
Katie Kolthoff, Shawn O’Brien and Natalie Justice, all 16, debated the merits of shaved ice versus ice cream as they sat in the shade after finishing their snow cones.
“Ice cream was the thing last summer, but now it’s Fruitzen,” said O’Brien, a Xavier student.
Jason Spangler, 40, who started Fruitzen in 2002, knows it’s July because he’s hustling to stock all 30-plus flavors and making custom ice blocks that fit easily into the stand’s shaving machine.
On steamy midsummer evenings, snow-cone seekers will wait in a line 30 deep to get the brain-numbing treats in flavor combinations that include Dante’s Peak (orange, cherry and vanilla), Frog Legs (lime and coconut) and Tiger’s Blood (strawberry and coconut). The favorite flavor, by far, Spangler said, is blue raspberry, a shade that leaves a telltale stain on customer’s lips and tongues.
Fruitzen’s 10 employees — mostly high school and college students — cover many of the shifts, but Spangler pitches in during busy spells and brings his company’s icy sweetness to the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers’ Market.
“It does get a little grueling,” he said.
Hiring a good staff is key to the operation, Spangler said. He likes to find students who might work a couple summers before they graduate from high school or college. They often come back year after year.
“They have to crank out the cones, but I want them to have fun,” Spangler said. “They work in the A/C, see friends, make tips. There’s very little supervision, so they have to be very independent.”
Ashley Dahl, a 20-year-old Wartburg College junior from Cedar Rapids, is in her second season working at Fruitzen.
“I’m studying business marketing,” she said. “I see how Jason runs his business and learn from watching him.”
Spangler has expanded his business over the years to include real fruit smoothies and bars and even lip balm. During the off-season, the husband and father of two is a writer who recently completed a script about his shaved ice empire.
“It’s really funny,” he said.
The Fruitzen crew will be busy until mid-August when students go back to school. The stand is open through Sept. 30.