It’s not even August, and summer is already a scorcher. So what better way to cool down than with a snowball? Baltimore and New Orleans are the two main U.S. cities known for snowballs, with stands that are almost 90 years old. But a new kid on the block has brought New Orleans-style snowballs to Baltimore.
While in high school, now 24-year-old Dasia Kabia took a summer job at a snowball stand in Northwest Baltimore’s Woodlawn neighborhood. It’s where her grandmother used to take her when she was a kid. “The owner had been in the business for about 20 years,” explains Kabia. “And I came to him with a few of my ideas to make it better, but he just shot me down. He said I didn’t really know what I was doing and wouldn’t be able to run my own business,” she laments.
“I took that advice,” she continues, “and threw it out the window, and I started talking about opening my own snowball shop with everyone, especially my parents. My mom always said, ‘Once you decide to do something, I know you’re gonna do it!’
Attracting Pandemic Patrons
And she did. After telling her former pediatrician, Dr. Monique Burk, who is originally from Louisiana, about her dream, she decided to help Kabia make it happen. In fact, she knew of the perfect location just a block down the street from where she lives in Locust Point.
“And as soon as I walked in the door and saw the brick walls and the lighting and the granite countertop, I was like, ‘Yes! I want this,’ exclaims Kabia. Burk became an angel investor, helping Kabia get the brick and mortar, permits and licenses, and Ice Queens was born.
“The machine we use was patented in New Orleans,” confides Kabia. “New Orleans was the first place to patent a snowball machine, which was made in 1921 and made to generate a very finely shaved ice that resembles Colorado snow. And we get our flavors from a local Baltimore business,” she adds.
The business was about to open when the pandemic hit a week later. But after regrouping, Kabia moved the grand opening for Ice Queens to Memorial Day Weekend of 2020 and changed the business model to being completely outside.
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“A lot of people were just tired of being stuck in the house and we were a place that was in the neighborhood where they could take their kids out for a sweet dessert,” notes Kabia. She continues, “Most other places were shut down, so having the walk-up window worked in our favor in keeping everyone safe, and since then, we’ve kept the business mostly outside.”
Today, on any warm-weather weekend, Ice Queens has lines around the block with patrons coming from Baltimore and D.C. as well as other states. “We have a pretty large following on Instagram and Facebook,” shares Kabia. “My father helps me to manage our social media platforms and he responds to people. I think that’s why we have such great reviews on Google, which has helped to direct a lot of customers to us,” she adds.
Ice Queens is located near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, as well as the cruise ship port and Fort McHenry National Monument, so it’s become a popular stop for tourists. “I’m originally from Texas and I have a lot of family that come up to visit,” says Laurel Lamb. “So whenever we do [Fort McHenry], we swing by here and get snowballs for everyone. I really like the bananas foster, but today I’m trying the strawberry cheesecake.” Lamb’s visitor, Dipper Cooper, adds, “I ordered the wild cherry with marshmallows. I’ve never heard of a snowball before. We don’t have them in Texas.”
But locals are connoisseurs. “I’m from Baltimore and I’ve loved snowballs all my life,” exclaims Octavia “Maggie” Bonds, who is here with her daughter Harley. “I prefer snowballs over Italian ice,” she continues. “I’ve been here quite a few times, and my favorite is the apple pie a la mode with apple chunks in it. And I also love the papaya snowball and, of course, egg custard!”
The shop is also popular with Baltimore’s first responders like the Lieutenant Battle of the Baltimore Police Department and Kyle Johnson of the Baltimore City Fire Department, who ordered the mango tango. “I also like the egg custard, the blue Hawaiian and the blue raspberry,” says Johnson. “They’re all good, especially with the fresh fruit that they put in them.”
Jessica Jones and her daughter, Ariel, visit about twice a week. “I love their customer service and the diversity of specialty flavors,” says Jones.
New Orleans and Baltimore Styles
“We’re known for our specialty snowballs, which are flavor combinations with different toppings on them,” Kabia notes. “We specialize in doing snowballs with fresh fruit and New Orleans-style, which is with a sweet, condensed cream on the top and throughout the snowball.”
She continues, “One of my favorite specialty snowballs is our strawberry shortcake, which has a strawberry cheesecake flavor with fresh strawberries and condensed cream, topped with whipped cream and vanilla wafers. It’s a big seller. Another one is our mango tango, which has mango, guava and papaya flavors with fresh mango juice and fresh strawberries on top.”
And no Baltimore snowball shop can go without egg custard. “It’s a Baltimore classic, made with egg custard flavor and topped with our New Orleans-style condensed cream and marshmallows, which is Baltimore-style,” Kabia emphasizes. The non-alcoholic “mocktails” are also tasty, like the strawberry daiquiri royale and the NOLA-style hurricane. “It’s made with lemon and passion fruit flavors with a splash of “rum” and an orange and cherry on the side,” describes Kabia.
Fighting Challenges with Love
The diversity of flavors can be seen on the menu boards on the inside and outside walls of the shop. But during the first year, Ice Queens was struck with vandalism from a few members of the historically white and Polish community, who didn’t want to see an African American-owned business succeed in the neighborhood.
“The thing that really struck me was when they ripped off all of our menu signs that were nailed to the outside walls. I went to open the shop one day, and there were no menu signs for my customers,” she laments. “But the next day, every news station in the area came to interview me, and that catapulted my business to be what it is today. So their intention was to run us out, but it boosted our business even more,” she says with gratitude.
Her mom and manager or “momager,” Melanie Kabia, adds, “Encountering racism so bluntly was super heartbreaking. So it was really important to remind Dasia that the things that were happening to her were not really about her but about the people who were doing those racist acts. And we also emphasize what our front entrance says, ‘Love Lives Here.’”
She continues, “We used to write that on the sidewalk in chalk every day, but after the vandalism, we painted it on the sidewalk. So our statement is that no matter what anybody else brings, love lives here. It’s within us, our staff and the products that we serve.”
Another challenge for Ice Queens was getting through the long, cold winter when snowball sales plummeted. “So we started doing breakfast on the weekends, with breakfast sandwiches, French toast, all-fruit smoothies and beignets, which is our popular New Orleans treat. That helped us pay rent during the winter months,” Kabia admits.
“We had my daughter’s elementary school come out here for beignets and coffee,” says Jones. “And we love their breakfast potatoes.” Ice Queens also supplements the shop income with catering for weddings, parties and family reunions. “Our big pink bus is great advertisement for us as we drive through the city,” Kabia smiles.
Ice Queens Educating and Giving Back
As someone who studied culinary arts and restaurant management at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, it’s important to Kabia to educate the public about healthy eating, so her food and snowballs are eco- and vegan-friendly.
There’s also a tongue-in-cheek message on one of the outside walls that reads “nut-free (people and food).” And the dog-friendly business offers “doggie ice” for its four-footed customers. Prices range from $1.50 to about $10, and there are always weekly specials. “And we do fundraisers each month for local organizations that we pair with a special snowball of the month,” says Kabia.
“And the proceeds would go to the nonprofit we chose for that month. So it allows people to buy a snowball and give to an important cause at the same time.” She continues, “We did a fundraiser for Black Women Build, which teaches Black women skills like carpentry, how to build homes, as well as life advice. We also donated to the Pride Foundation of Maryland for LGBTQ+ Month. And my 14-year-old brother, who provides professional drum entertainment at some of our events, is a leukemia survivor, so we do a big fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Awareness month in October. And we donate that money to Horizon Day Camp, which helps kids who are going through treatment, and their siblings, to attend a summer camp that’s paid for,” she adds.
“I like to support young, female entrepreneurs,” says Mark Brick, who lives down the street and came for an egg custard snowball. “And as a fellow entrepreneur, I think bringing awareness to different causes is a smart idea because it brings in different markets to her business.”
“We’ve also done a lot of promotions and collaborations with the local businesses in the area,” notes Kabia. “For our second anniversary this past May, we had pop-up shops with three Black women-owned businesses and two Black male-owned businesses that don’t yet have their own brick and mortar.”
She adds, “I got lucky because I was able to have an investor, who happens to be a white woman, who had money and experience running her own business. So when it came to getting permits and licenses and things like that, which many [Black businesses] don’t have access to, I had her,” she explains.
“So I’d like to eventually have a shared kitchen where other Black-owned businesses can use it and save on the overhead of a brick and mortar. And I also have big dreams of attending the Cordon Bleu in London.”
Now if all of that seems to be a huge undertaking for someone only 24 years old, Kabia’s mom says she’s not concerned. “That child has been selling things out of her backpack and her back pocket since she was in elementary school, making crafts and selling lollipops, then candy bars and Dasia’s Donuts and our family recipe of butterscotch blondies,” laughs Kabia’s mom. “She’s always had a natural love for food and a business mind, so I believe Ice Queens is just a stepping stone to many businesses that Dasia will have,” she boasts.
Family and the Future
Kabia says her mom, who has 20 years of human resources management experience, is her backbone in the business. And through Ice Queens, she wants to be able to help her and other members of her family with their dreams too. “My mom has always wanted a beach house and I want to give her that,” Kabia says wistfully.
“And seeing the challenges my mom has with caring for her mother. I want to be financially prepared to care for my parents when they get old.” She continues, “I’d also like to pay for my brother to attend the Berkeley College of Music in Boston.”
Kabia also inspires young girls to believe in their dreams of business ownership. “There are little girls who come to me and say, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up,’ and that just fills me up to be able to be an example for little girls who remind me of myself.”
Bonds adds, “I love that my daughter sees Dasia as the owner of Ice Queens, and I love that she’s inspiring young girls. It’s like a snowball effect; it just keeps growing and growing,” she laughs.
In fact, Kabia plans to keep growing with a new location in Atlanta by her fifth year and eventually more locations across the country. She states with pride, “I want to be the Chick Fil A of snowballs, with a good product, good customer service and give back to my employees and my communities.”