Thursday, August 1, 2013
Of all the challenges to running a shaved ice business out of a tool shed-turned tiki hut along a corridor that’s zoned residential/commercial, the biggest by far is “ice management,” say the owners of Pineapple Pete’s Shaved Ice.
Round ice — the key ingredient in making the melt-in-your-mouth ice confections — comes with difficulties you can’t even begin to imagine.
Finding it is the first one. A lack of the stuff required immediate remediation when Marc Hernandez and Slavik Tkachev set out last year to bring back the tasty shaved ice treats they remembered from their Walla Walla youths.
Without a source for their key ingredient at Pineapple Pete’s in College Place, they created their own solution: they made it themselves.
Every Sunday night the business partners and roommates fill 25 large plastic bowls with water and put them in a chest freezer that is not opened again until the following Tuesday.
About a half-hour before the stand’s 2 p.m. opening Tuesday through Friday plus Sunday (and 4 p.m. opening on Saturday), the dense, round chunks of ice have to be taken out of the freezer for thawing.
Hernandez and Tkachev have learned the hard way that if the ice isn’t a little slick, shaving the block for even one medium-sized treat has a merciless wait time.
The ice has to be handled like a precious gemstone. If it cracks in the middle, or worse, if it accidentally falls on the floor — as has been the case a time or two — there’s simply that much less to serve.
Judging by the number of times Pineapple Pete’s has been forced into an early closure this summer, it’s been either a harder season for ice management or a greater season for the cool confections.
“We’re definitely learning,” Hernandez said on a recent sweltering afternoon as he and Tkachev prepared for opening. “We were flying blind at first.”
Now in its second season at 1015 S. College Ave., Pineapple Pete’s is a multipurpose business. It is one part nostalgia for Hernandez and Tkachev, who remember a tropical-themed business in Walla Walla that served shaved ice when they were younger. But it also originated to serve as a way for them to branch out and explore their entrepreneurial sides.
Hernandez, who also works caring for developmentally disabled adults, said he loves shaved ice and noted the shortage of opportunities to get it in the community.
“With the economy like it is, when it comes to diversifying, you go with what you know,” he quipped.
The original plan was to operate as a vendor at special events. But with his home located in a residential/commercial zone on the stretch between the Walla Walla University campus and Andy’s Market, just down the road from the turnoff to Walmart, Hernandez was sitting on a prime location.
He and Tkachev, who’d met years ago through their mutual work at the Lillie Rice Center, constructed a tool shed they’d picked up from Home Depot, added some grass on top for an island vibe, picked up their health permits and opened for business.
“We had a little bit of a following,” said Hernandez, whose thick crush of black curls is a contrast to the shaved head of his partner.
This year they added a couple of coats of bright yellow paint to the hut. Picnic tables set up on the front lawn under an awning provide seating. Customers have been visitors from as far in any direction as Athena and the Tri-Cities.
The roadway is the perfect feeder for customers. “Everybody goes to Walmart, and it’s on the way,” Hernandez said.
The shaved ice comes in 34 flavors. Two are sugar-free and another two are dye-free. The intent was to avoid dyes for those with allergies, but “a smart mom” later pointed out that the clear flavors — cherry and strawberry — can also be eaten on the go with no fear of stains in the car.
The most popular flavor by far is one called “Tiger’s Blood.” It’s a mix of melon and berry that is most in demand from children, Hernandez said. They can also add “sno sour” and other spice effects to any flavor.
Every cup of shaved ice — from the Lil Petey all the way up to the 32-ounce Big Pedro — is served with a trademark umbrella. Kids also get free leis during their visit.
Tkachev and Hernandez typically dress in matching colorful T-shirts and linen pants. To build their clientele, they’ve become prolific on social media and have added VIP bracelets as an incentive for return customers. Truth be told, they believe anyone who tries their shaved ice will want to come back anyway.
With each coming from a family of eight children, Hernandez and Tkachev most enjoy serving the big families that have found an affordable way to treat themselves. The most satisfying part is seeing the expressions on people as they enjoy the treats, they said. Their oldest customer has been 100. They’ve served giant groups coming from work breaks. They served a couple who came from the Tri-Cities on their anniversary after the husband discovered the stand and was reminded of shaved ice he and his bride had on their honeymoon.
“It’s building memories for them,” Tkachev said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-526-8321.