The party follows Rob Hensley wherever he goes.
The shaved ice he serves out of his brightly-decorated Kona Ice truck would be enough, but when you add festive calypso music, Hawaiian leis and a self-serve flavor dispenser, well, that’s when the party really gets started.
“We were down in the Tower District,” Hensley recalls, “and there was this guy, a hard-looking dude. He was tattooed from the top of his head down. He stopped me and came up to the window and he said, ‘Whattya got?’ I said, ‘shave ice’ and he goes, ‘Oh, that’s awesome ... honey, come here!’ And she brings five kids out and he starts dancing, the kids were all dancing. It made him a little kid. He was having fun with his kids, I was having fun. It was great.”
This is all in a typical work day for Hensley and his wife, Mary Barker, who own Kona Ice of SW Clovis. Part of a Kentucky-based national franchise, Kona Ice is known for selling shaved ice with a twist: each Kona Ice truck, or Kona Entertainment Vehicle, comes equipped with a Flavorwave dispenser on the outside. Upon receiving their cup of freshly-shaved ice, customers use the 10 flavored syrups on tap to create their own flavor combinations.
Hensley said he first became aware of Kona Ice last September, while at an event sponsored by his daughter’s elementary school. “They said over the loudspeaker, ‘Don’t forget to get your Kona Ice,’” he said. Although he was reluctant to wait in the long line, his daughter persuaded him. After seeing how efficiently the operation worked, and how much families enjoyed the product, he was sold on the concept. He and Barker purchased their franchise in December, he attended training in Kentucky in January and they were up and running by February.
Now, it’s not unusual to see Hensley’s truck at events like school fundraisers, Fresno Grizzlies games and private parties. The eye-catching truck draws customers in, and its streamlined serving process allows Hensley and his family (their teenage daughter occasionally helps out in the truck) to quickly serve even large groups. At one event, he said, they served 500 cups of shaved ice in an hour and a half.
The 10 Flavorwave self-serve flavors include the best selling Tiger’s Blood, a combination of strawberry and coconut. That one, Hensley said, is a favorite with kids: “The kids tend to make it popular just because it sounds cool.” Other favorites are blue raspberry and piña colada. A surprise best seller, he said, has been root beer; they recently added it to the lineup in place of orange due to repeated customer requests.
Three sizes, priced between 3 and 5 dollars, are available; the largest comes in a resuable plastic cup that can be saved and refilled for 3 dollars on future visits.
Because other Kona Ice franchisees operate in the Fresno-Clovis area, Hensley sticks within an assigned territory, which includes southwest Clovis as well as downtown Fresno. Prospective customers who want to book a Kona Ice truck for their event enter their information in the company’s website to determine which franchise serves their area; if the territory is unassigned it will return a list of the nearest franchisees.
Despite the perceived competition, Hensley said he and the other franchise operators in the area have a good working relationship and often help each other out with everything from referrals to emergency supply deliveries.
Fundraising is part of the company’s mission. Through Kona Ice’s Million Dollar Giveback program, Kona Ice of SW Clovis gives 20 percent of its profits back to schools who book fundraisers through the company. Since 2007, the company as a whole has raised more than 35 million dollas for community and nonprofit organizations. Events at Fresno’s Wilson Elementary between March and June yielded an $800 check for the school, Hensley said.