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August 25. 2013 9:25PM

$50k and counting

Cool, colorful Kona Ice gives back


New Hampshire Dance Institute summer camp attendees, at Marlborough School this month, dance to the Calypso music of the Kona Ice truck for franchise owner Sharon Sweeney. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)


At left, Sharon Sweeney of Surry serves a Kona Ice of New Hampshire customer at Marlborough School recently. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

SURRY -- Five years after launching Kona Ice of New Hampshire, owners Sharon and Jim Sweeney of Surry have given more than $50,000 back to their local community.

On a recent warm summer day, Sharon Sweeney had one of the business' three Kona Ice trucks parked at by the Marlborough School playground with a long line of children that kept her serving shaved ice for her entire hourlong visit to the New Hampshire Dance Institute summer camp at the elementary school.

Kristen Leach, camp director, said for the past several years she has scheduled the Kona Ice truck to come one day a week of the two-week summer dance camp.

A visit from Kona Ice is marked by the steel drum melodies of Calypso music, the colorful characters on the truck, including Kona the Penguin, and the Flavorwave, which allows patrons to help themselves to Kona Ice's top 10 flavors.

The children love the shaved ice, and 25 percent of the money made during the visits goes directly to the dance camp, Leach said.

"It's gone back into our scholarships. It's gone into some of the expenses we have in running the camp or the event we have in May," Leach said. "I think the neatest part of the story is that there is actually a business that is financially benefiting from being there and then turning back around and giving you a check back. … And it's just happiness, happiness and fun."

On top of that, the Sweeneys just love being a part of the community, Leach said. "No matter how many children there are, they have that same smile for each kid."

The Surry couple had long been in business for themselves when in 2008 the economic crash made their business as event equipment lease brokers frustratingly difficult, Sharon Sweeney said.

So her husband, Jim Sweeney, took to the Internet to find a new business, Sharon said.

"Every time he came up with one of these hair-brained online things, I'd look at him and say, 'Are you crazy?'"

Even when he discovered a new franchise opportunity with a shaved ice truck business based out of Florence, Ky., Sharon was skeptical.

"I didn't want to own an ice cream truck. I thought my husband was crazy."

But after Jim did his homework on the franchise, the couple decided it could work and that they needed the change of pace.

"We were just looking for something totally different and fun and exciting," Sweeney said.

One of the things the couple liked best about the franchise is how it engages the community through fundraisers.

Each franchise chooses how much it wants to give back, but like the Sweeneys, Kona franchise's usually give back 25 percent of its profits at a fundraising event, she said.

"We call it 'no touch money.' They just have to tell us where to park and where to send the check to," Sweeney said.

At almost every stop, they give back revenue to the group that invited them, school fairs, baseball leagues, church events, corporate outings, even weddings.

"We were looking for something that was fun and colorful, and that's what Kona Ice is. It's the most fun business you can ever own, and being part of the community, giving back to the community just makes it so rewarding," Sweeney said. "Every day is different. That's part of the fun of Kona Ice. We never know if we are doing a simple drive through a neighborhood or being part of a fundraising event or going to a fair or festival."

Sweeney said the shaved ice is not hard ice, like a snow cone, but freshly shaved ice that is light and fluffy.

Shaved ice originated in Hawaii, where it is known as shave ice, she said.

In other parts of the county, it is known as Hawaiian or tropical shaved ice, and in some parts of the South, it is known as snowballs.

The smallest portion is $2 and comes with the option of 30 syrup flavors. The top 10 flavors are on the side of the truck at the Flavorwave self-serving station.

"You can put on any flavor you want. You can mix and match. It just adds to the experience," Sweeney said of Flavorwave.

They also sell a variety of ice cream truck favorites.

The Sweeneys were the first to bring Kona Ice to New Hampshire; now there are three other Kona Ice franchises in the state, she said.New Hampshire has the distinction of having the most Kona trucks per capita, Sweeney said.

With such a short warm weather season though, even Kona Ice owner Tony Lamb thought it was a long shot starting a franchise in New Hampshire, Sweeney said.

"I think he fell off of his chair when we were at the end of our second season, and we had to order a second truck," she said.

The Sweeneys make the most of the New Hampshire season and use the off season to visit family and friends.

"What we say is we work very hard for six months, and we don't work hard for six months," Sweeney said.

Kona Ice was started in 2007. "Our first truck was No. 29," Sweeney said. "They must be approaching 500 trucks on the road right now."

Their initial investment was just over $90,000 to start the franchise, she said. In five years, the franchise has expanded to three trucks, hired two employees, covers the Route 9 area from Concord into Brattleboro, Vt., and most importantly has given back $50,000 to the community they serve.

According to www.kona-ice.com, the Kona Ice community give-back program has donated more than $11 million.

The Sweeneys can be contacted at Sharon@konaiceofnh.com.

mpierce@newstote.com.com


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