By Kim Wade | Savannah Now
It’s easy to day dream about owning your own business. Sure you get to be your own boss, but what about the difficult parts like trying to juggle your day job that pays the bills while trying to find time for your family?
Jamie and Jennifer Hodge longed to become small business owners, but being parents was their No. 1 priority. They finally found the solution. In early April, the duo took the reins of a local Kona Ice franchise.
Jamie says the franchise includes his Kona Ice truck that they take to festivals, parties, community events and fundraisers. It’s shaved ice, not your typical snow cone so you don’t have to deal with that annoyingly rock hard ball in a flimsy paper cup.
“This opportunity just popped up,” he says. “I always wanted to own a small business. … This is a good entrance into that. It really involves the family. The kids love it, and it’s something we can do together.”
While the couple still maintains their full-time day jobs, finding the right company to pair with took several years.
“Jamie has become a professional business plan writer,” Jennifer says. “We’ve been married for 14 years, and he has written at least one or two business plans each year. We have looked at all kinds of things, and this is something that has really driven him.”
The couple says one of the biggest advantages to the new business is its simplicity.
“We aren’t doing brain surgery here. We’re serving up yummy shaved ice,” Jennifer says.
“What’s really neat about this truck is it operates really quick,” Jamie says. “I can make 300 in an hour, easy. We have the Flavorwave, where you put on flavor and we have it outside the truck so the kids can put on the flavor themselves.”
“It’s pretty cute to see the kids get excited about it because they don’t get to do things like that themselves,” Jennifer says. “Really, everyone likes customization.”
And the flavor combinations are almost endless.
She says the truck is great because it’s a moving billboard.
“We have a sound system on the truck playing Hawaiian music. It’s a total sensory experience. … People can congregate around truck, standing around eating and talking. In terms of community, it’s great. You don’t see that with other businesses,” Jennifer says.
The couple optimize their time by taking their truck to large events where the crowds have already gathered rather than driving around the streets hoping to attract customers.
“The big issue for us is family time,” Jennifer says. The couple has two children. and they are able to all work together on the truck so they can spend time together.
The Hodges are also civic minded people, so they wanted a way to also help the community.
“I have been a member of the PTA at my sons’ schools and … I know people are always trying to raise money,” Jennifer says. “When Jamie started talking about this, it was the Give Back option that really drew me to this company.”
So far, about $27 million of national Kona Ice sales have been given back to communities through only 600 trucks. Groups that hire Savannah Kona Ice for fundraisers receive 20 percent of sales.
“I really enjoy that especially because we understand how that money gets used,” Jennifer says. “… We live in this community, so it’s good to be a part of it in that way.”
The couple says Kona Ice is also the only frozen treat that is Smart Snack approved for schools.
“One of the changes we were able to make is to switch the formula for the syrup that had been used,” Jennifer says. “Traditionally they used a concentrated sugar water … but Kona Ice has a VitaBlend, which is less than half the amount of sugar. It’s a stevia blend fortified with vitamins D and C … so there are only 25-50 calories for one small Kona Ice. Everybody can do that.”
Jamie talks about the first time they took the Kona Ice truck to an event.
“Our first event was at Country Day, and we were shocked at the number of people — the line didn’t stop for the four hours we were there,” he says. “We did it based on tickets and when we turned in our tickets to Country Day at the end, we had so many we had to put them in a trash bag.
“… It’s really wonderful to see the volume we are doing, but we are giving back at the same time. … I’m amazed at how much money we are giving back. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
And the couple hopes that their success in the community will help lead the way for more food trucks to make their way to Savannah streets.
“We are on the cutting edge of Savannah as far as food trucks go,” Jamie, a life-long Savannah resident, says.
“I don’t think (the city) is friendly to food trucks, at all, and I think that needs to change. We struggled with permitting so I understand people who are going through that.
“… I’m really proud of that 100 point inspection. This truck has everything it needs. It’s a great truck, and I can’t wait to get No. 2.”
For more information
To learn more about Savannah Kona Ice, call 912-346-3572, email email@example.com or find Savannah Kona Ice on Facebook.