Hansen's Sno-Bliz (4801 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-891-9788; www.snobliz.com) marks its 75th anniversary this year and was recognized recently by the James Beard Foundation. Ashley Hansen, who took over the shop from her grandparents, founders Ernest and Mary Hansen, spoke with Gambit about continuing the family tradition.
What was it like growing up at Hansen's Sno-Bliz?
Hansen: I remember starting here at an early age. My sister and I would come in and wash bottles and help out here and there. When I was 15, I'd come over with my dad in the evenings and help my grandparents close up the shop. Or I'd come during the day and help them, doing whatever they needed, or just to hang around.
When i was at college at Loyola, I would ride my bike up here, and sometimes they wouldn't be here. As they got older, things got more haphazard. And then some of my friends would be like, "Hey Ashley, I got a snowball today. ... Your grandparents are open!"
We used to take field trips here when I was in school, because the teacher would want to show what a patent was. So that was the excuse to get a snowball. My grandmother, this was her life — it was the business that she built. My grandfather's life was really the machines. He received a full patent from the U.S. government for the Hansen's Ice Shaving Machine. After he retired from the machine shops, he came to work with my grandmother, and they never left each other's side. They wouldn't go for a walk or go to the K&B without each other. It's a beautiful love story. Love and snowballs.
Today, people produce snowball machines all the time, but nothing like what we have. ... All you have to do is look at the ice. It's fluffy, like a down pillow, like cotton candy. Like real snow.
How does it feel to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation?
H: When they first called me, I didn't believe them. It's such a great pat on the back — not that it changes what we do here every day. I still mop the floors myself, still make the syrups by hand each morning. But it's really nice, because I think my grandparents would have enjoyed knowing that we're getting a nationally recognized honor. A lot of times, when I think about business, I think about them first and the quality that they taught me to keep. Their catchphrase was, "There are no shortcuts to quality." I stand by that to this day. My grandparents created such a wonderful tradition, and my employees and friends today are helping to keep that alive. Because you can't do it all by yourself. They told me that, too.
After all these years, do you still eat snowballs?
H: I still love snowballs. The ginger-cayenne is my current favorite. If we weren't so busy, honestly, I'd probably eat more than I do. Like on rainy days, I'll eat five or six back-to-back, because we're just sitting here, waiting for customers. But when we're busy, it's hard to eat a snowball. When I have my kids around they want snowballs, so I don't get to enjoy one. But they'll always ask, "What does mommy have?" Now even they like the ginger-cayenne.
I try things on my kids, and when I find them asking me for them, I know it's a hit. My 4-year-old asks for ginger-cayenne or blueberry and cardamom. She knows her flavors! If a kid likes them, you know you're on to something, because they're so honest. Anise and cream of ice cream is really good. It tastes like biscotti. Anise and cream of chocolate is great, and also anise paired with fruit punch. Pink peppermint with canned cream poured right on top is amazing. And our brown pelican is our cream of root beer that we pair with vanilla beans that are hand-scraped and steeped in simple syrup. It's awesome. — SCOTT GOLD