Sidewalk Stories: How Two College Students Turned a School Project into a Thriving Business

In 2003, Jared Scanlon was attending The University of Georgia and was given an assignment that would change his life: Develop a plan for a novel business in his Entrepreneur class.

His partner for the project, Vicki Sanders, would become his business partner in a real business seven years later. That business, New Orleans SnoBall Cafe, in metro Atlanta, serves craft ice treats and gourmet popcorn  — with a twist of NOLA … and a side of Chi-town.

“I was raised on popcorn in Chicago in the wintertime,” Scanlon says. “Vicki was raised on snoballs in New Orleans in the summer. When we put the two together, it became a perfect business.”

SnoBall Cafe

New Orleans SnoBall Cafe partners Jared Scanlon, front right, and Vicki Sanders, front left.

It would take a few years for the concept to get off the ground. Scanlon helped run a family trucking business after graduation. Sanders, meanwhile, ran a dance studio.

But the lure of freshly-shaved ice, artisan syrups and flavored popcorn was too strong.

They decided to roll the dice in 2010, and opened their first store in Decatur, right outside of Atlanta.

While a dessert staple in other parts of the country, snoballs (don’t ever put a “w” in there) weren’t yet a common find in Atlanta. The process begins by freezing water into cubed blocks of ice. The cubes are added to a machine that breaks the ice into a snow-like consistency. It’s then molded into a soft-ish frozen treat. After that, syrup is added.

Combine that with popcorn, and some New Orleans-style treats, and you have a popular destination.

“It’s a unique concept,” Scanlon says. “Everything we sell is all natural — from the popcorn to the snoball. We exceed expectations each and every day. That’s our goal in everything we do.”

Ramping up retail technology

They had the product down pat. But what’s been a challenge is running an actual business. One challenge has been finding consistent talent. Another? Technology.

New Orleans SnoBall Cafe had literally been using an antique cash register. Forget about functionality such as integrated email marketing and sales reporting. This thing didn’t even have an integrated card reader.

Now, with a shiny NCR Silver mobile POS system, Scanlon & Co. enjoy pulling in-depth sales reports from their cloud-based back office — at home, at the store or even on the road.

“Accessing the back office from my iPad remotely is a huge time-saver,” Scanlon says. “I can check sales, see if my employees are typing in emails, check on all recent activity and more, even when I’m not at the store.”

Thanks to NCR Silver being an app that runs on iPad, he also appreciates automatic updates.

“I like how they are constantly enhancing the product,” Scanlon says. “When we put in a special request, they ultimately try to get it in there.”

Other things New Orleans SnoBall Cafe has been enjoying?

  • The ability to print to more than one printer from one iPad tablet.
  • Tablet intuitiveness at the point of sale and back office.
  • Getting a live agent, 24-7, when they have a technical issue; Scanlon prefers to call or IM after his business closes so he can focus on his own customers.
  • Sending out emails to customers right from the POS system.

“We’re starting to use email marketing,” he says. “It’s so easy to put a discount in there and shoot it out to our customer base. It’s a nifty little system that’s well put together.”

Growth has been anything but cold

Business has been growing, sometimes faster than they can find employees. In 2012, they opened another location just north in Stone Mountain.

Now, they’re planning to expand into more shops around Atlanta.

They eventually plan to franchise out, so there’s a New Orleans SnoBall Cafe “on every street corner in the United States.”

Why does Scanlon think it’s a franchise concept that will take off? He has pretty good test subjects — his customers.

“Eighty-plus-percent return after their first visit,” Scanlon says. “They come in expecting one thing and leave getting another — and that always blows their minds.”

 

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