Competition for snowball stands heats up

With the final days of summer approaching, competition is heating up for snowball sales in Arbutus and Catonsville.

Some businesses, such as Pink Flamingo Sno-Balls on Maiden Choice Lane, strictly sell snowballs and close in the winter.

Others, like Ken's Old Fashioned Candy Shop on Frederick Road, have added snowballs to their menu during the summer months.

"We need the business when chocolate sales drop off during the summer," said Mary Chizmadia, owner of the candy store in the heart of downtown Catonsville, which is selling snowballs for the first time this summer.

Barry Koch, co-owner of Cravin' Crabs, said he is offering the treat for the second summer to customers while they wait in line for seafood.

"There are no snowballs around our restaurant, so we decided to sell them," Koch said of his Annapolis Road business.

But once the heat begins to subside and cool temperatures signal the start of fall, snowballs are no longer the dessert of choice.

"You will see more customers, the hotter and more humid the weather," said Karen Cain, who opened her Pink Flamingo stand eight years ago. "I don't open my stand until the weather is consistently 80 degrees for a period of time."

Beth Reymann, who has run Opie's Soft Serve & Snowballs on Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville for a decade, said a rainy spring decreased snowball sales this year but the pleasant summer weather has increased business for the stand.

"We've had a good summer season because the weather has been great," Reymann said.

Not to be confused with snow cones, a similar icy concoction offered across the nation, snowballs are unique to the Baltimore region. They are made of either shaved or crushed ice and flavored syrup, and often topped with an optional dose of marshmallow, or even ice cream, and served in a polystyrene foam cup.

Outside the Baltimore area, snow cones are made of crushed ice put in a cone, then frozen before being topped with flavored syrup, which makes the ice stick together and the syrup fall to the bottom of the cone, according to Cain.

A true Baltimore snowball requires two other things: marshmallow and egg custard flavoring.

Egg custard is the most popular snowball flavor sold in Arbutus and Catonsville, according to six of the snowball stand owners interviewed for this article. And most people also ask for marshmallow to be added to their frozen dessert.

"A busy stand goes through 30 pounds of it a day," said Kathy McLane, co-owner with Vernon Geis of Tastee Zone in Catonsville, which sells ice cream and snowballs, since 1995.

"When you ask marshmallow manufacturers for their product, they look at you like you're crazy," said McLane, co-owner of Kavern Snow Syrup in Baltimore.

Standing out

With numerous stands selling the summer treat, which melts slower than ice cream on a hot day, every business makes snowballs a specific way to keep customers coming back.

"There's a science to it. If you don't know how to make one, you can make a bad snowball, and if you know what you're doing, you can make a really good one," said Baron Saradpon, 31, manager of the Eskimo Shack on the corner of Carville Avenue and Sulphur Spring Road in the heart of Arbutus.

"It's really all about personal preference," said Saradpon, who has been working at the stand since it opened in 2003.

At Eskimo Shack, Choni Weigman and her two children enjoy the Koldkiss syrup flavors and hand-shaved ice.

"We always make it a point to stop here when we drive through this area," said the Arbutus resident. "The ice is better here, and they have better flavors. And we like the people here — they're always nice."

For Pink Flamingo owner Cain, crushed ice, Kavern syrup and a specific type of marshmallow are the perfect formula.

Cain's combination brings repeat customers like Arbutus resident Tony Stewart, who purchased an extra-large egg custard snowball last Wednesday.

He said he patronizes the stand three times a week in the summertime.

Kavern and Koldkiss syrups are the preferred sources of flavoring for the stands in the area. Both offer a wide variety of flavors. Kavern uses cane sugar, and Koldkiss uses corn syrup.

Cold treat,hot competition

With more stands opening and more businesses offering snowballs, the stakes are higher for owners.

"There's a lot more competition now," said Chizmadia, 76, of Ken's Old Fashioned Candy Shop.

Chizmadia said she patented the Snowball Parfait in the early 1990s but it has since expired. It consists of layers of flavored ice and ice cream, topped with marshmallow.

"It took off," said Chizmadia, who reopened her shop at 819 Frederick Road in 2011 after closing her longtime location at 1610 Frederick Road in 2007 and moving to New Mexico. "There was no Opie's and no ice cream places."

The candy and chocolate store began selling snowballs again this summer but faces competition from its next-door neighbor, You Scream Ice Cream, which sells snowballs in addition to its namesake dessert .

"We actually sell quite a few of them," said Rhonda Chase, owner of You Scream Ice Cream since 2009. "It's not a major part of our business. It's something that a lot of children order."

Chase said her business offers a chocolate-flavored snowball, which is hard to find elsewhere.

Many businesses in the area that sell ice cream also sell snowballs year-round. The Ice Cream Cottage in Arbutus and the Eskimo Shack are among those that continue to sell the treats even as the weather gets cooler.

"You'd be surprised, but we have people come in to order snowballs when it's snowing and 10 degrees outside," said Jane Huthes, who has been manager of the Ice Cream Cottage for almost eight years.

Opie's recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, according to Reymann, who has run the stand for 10 years.

"We expand our business by adding new products each year," Reymann said of the location at the Junction in Catonsville. "This year, we offered an $8 refillable cup throughout the summer as a promotion."

The stand gets most of its competition from Tastee Zone, which sells snowballs and ice cream across the street on Edmondson Avenue.

McLane said there are plenty of customers for both Tastee Zone and Opie's to share.

"We're still fine with them across the street, and the area is still growing," said McLane, who took over the store in 1995.

For most, eating a snowball continues to be a social event.

"It's a very social activity," McLane said. "People get in line, they talk with the neighbors. ... None of our customers are in a hurry."

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