Five months ago, two entrepreneurs, who also happened to be cousins, were poised to launch a unique business -- happiness on four wheels. Their colorful Kona Ice truck is a state-of-the-art vehicle whose sole purpose is selling shaved ice treats.
Then in a blink of a COVID-19 eye, their dreams melted as quickly as their ice delights. After spending half a year buying their franchise and graduating from “Kona Kollege” as certified owners of one of the fastest-growing franchises in the country, their vision evaporated.
Today, things are back on track. The business is growing at a blistering pace in time to ease the blistering heat of Virginia’s summer.
A central feature of Kona Ice’s corporate business strategy centers on fundraising for worthy causes. In the past 10 years, its franchisees have donated more than $82 million to thousands of organizations.
Maria Lischak and Tania Terleckyj are the figurative and literal drivers behind the business. The franchise is supportive of women, veterans and law enforcement owners, they said.
"In March, we were ready to go. We had schools, nonprofits, youth sports, churches and more lined up. We were booked through the end of October. We had our very first school event in early March, and then everything came to a halt,” said Lischak.
The company’s more than 1,200 franchisees faced the same crippling halt of business. With group gatherings shut down, the corporation quickly pivoted to save their owners.
“What Kona corporate did was enable us to offer curbside call and delivery in neighborhoods," said Lischak. “The company created an app called Kurbside Kona so customers can go online to order their frozen treats. It’s similar to other restaurant and pizza delivery businesses.”
"When you order online, you set a specific time for delivery and what products you want. We call five minutes before arrival to let you know we are on the way,” said Terleckyj.
There are five different sizes of cups from the 9-ounce Kiddie for $3 up to the 22-ounce Kowabunga for $6.
The company also works with homeowners associations. The South Wales community in northern Culpeper County arranged to have the Kona truck available for its residents. It used the community’s basketball court's parking lot, and its website announced the times and location of service.
“We’ve served South Wales on three occasions,” said Lischak.
When the truck arrives on location, it’s easy to spot. It is a colorful blast of tropical colors and graphics and playing calypso music. It triggers a “wow” reaction, signaling the tasty treats produced therein. Kona is a popular name for Hawaiian children.
The formal name of the business is Kona Ice of Culpeper, Locust Grove and Warrenton. Its territory includes part of Orange County and most of Fauquier and Culpeper counties.
Shaved ice dates to the Roman Emperor Nero in 27 B.C. Nero had snow transported from the mountains and then flavored with fruit and honey. Today, shaved ice differs from a slushie. Shaving enables the flavorings to soak more deeply into the ice and create a smooth consistency that other ice products lack, the owners explained.
“Kona Ice has outfitted all its trucks to be compliant with the highest standards required by any state regulations," said Terleckyj. “We have contactless payment and change our gloves and masks regularly.”
Temperature checks are taken at the beginning of each work shift. The inside and outside of the truck is applied with MircoShield 360, an FDA and EPA approved product that kills viruses on any surface.
Given the importance of cleanliness today, the truck is continually cleaned. It’s compliant with the National Sanitation Foundation International requirements, whose charter is helping to standardize sanitation and food safety in more than 170 countries.
On Aug. 1, the Kona Truck will participate in a fundraising drive-in movie night with the Salem volunteer fire and rescue department. "We want to have more of these events in our service areas,” said Lischak. “We ask any worthy organization reach out to us to make it happen.
"We are thrilled to be able to be doing this work. The smiles we see on people’s faces when we come out is wonderful. They are thankful and welcoming. It’s been overwhelming for us.
“The kids have been especially sweet. We drove up to one house, and one of the kids came running up and shouted, ‘This is the best day ever. Even better than Christmas!’”
For information on the Kona Ice schedule, visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Kona-Ice-of-Culpeper-Locust-Grove-Warrenton-108865737176746/.