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When the heat in Austin starts slowing people down, ice businesses start ramping up

 A freezer full of bags of ice outside a convenience store
Krissi Micklethwait
Monarch Food Mart sells out of ice almost every day during the summer, according to one employee.

Aric Jordan owns a massive 50-by-40-foot walk-in freezer in North Austin. It was built to hold 185 tons of ice for his company, Austin Ice Works. On a triple-digit day, the insulated cave also serves as a sublime escape.

“The operating temperature of the freezer is 20 degrees. So, it’s a nice place to come during a hot day, at least briefly,” Jordan said as he marveled at the stacked pallets of bagged ice. Just outside the freezer walls, Austin was settling into a brutal heat wave.

Ice Works, like other Austin businesses that produce or sell ice in any form, experiences a spike in business during the summer months. As the city's temperatures climb and most people start to slow down, these businesses begin operating at max capacity.

“We run 15 box trucks. We try to put out 120 tons a day,” Jordan said. “So yes, we stay busy. Our drivers start arriving at 4:30 in the morning and the gate closes between 11:30 and midnight. Seven days a week.”

Jordan has worked in the ice business for 22 years. That wasn’t really his intention, but after taking some classes at UT Austin and learning about production and distribution, he charted a course that led him to own Ice Works. The company grew over the years and is now one of the major distributors of bagged ice in the city, providing ice to thousands of businesses from Lampasas to Llano and major events like the Austin City Limits festival.

“We do probably 75% of our business between May and October,” Jordan said.

 Ice blocks sit in the freezer
Amaya Austin
Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs are shaved from 14-pound ice blocks produced daily by a large in-house ice maker.

Business at Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs in Central Austin also hits hard and fast as soon as shorts-and-sandals weather arrives.

“We're normally open from the beginning of March through Halloween. And within that timeframe, there's a stark seasonality,” owner Mars Chapman said. “Between the middle of May and about the middle of July or early August, we'll do about 50% of our sales.”

For 27 years, Casey’s has cranked out flavorful, fluffy “snowballs” shaved from 14-pound ice blocks. The ice is produced daily by a large in-house ice maker — a process Chapman calls harvesting.

“During our summer months, we will harvest twice a day; it takes about 12 hours,” he said. “Since summer began, we've been averaging around 35 blocks a day. Sometimes we're going through as much as 45 or 50 blocks.” Leftover blocks get sold to other shaved ice vendors in town.

At Casey's, the blocks get lodged into a large steel machine that transforms the frozen water into what looks and feels like freshly fallen snow.

“There are different types of ice shavers. We use one that was developed in New Orleans. It's a horizontal ice shaver,” Chapman said. “We want that super soft, fluffy melt-in-your-mouth snow that just holds the syrup, like a sponge and that's what we aim to make every time.”

Once the snow comes out of the machine, it’s soaked in flavors like strawberry, mango and Tiger’s Blood. Casey’s offers 55 flavors, plus soft-serve ice cream. Every day, people queue in line for the icy treats — on the busiest days, the line stretches around the corner of the small building and into the parking lot.

A multicolored shaved ice in a cup with a spoon and a straw
Renee Dominguez
The blocks of ice are shaved and then soaked in different flavors.

At Monarch Food Mart in Central Austin, the ice business is a bit more practical, but no less busy in the summer months. People come and go throughout the day to grab bagged ice for their coolers, their cocktails and maybe even to cool down the kiddie pool.

While they’re there, customers will often pick up a few other snacks or necessities — a practice that instigated the transformation of Texas’ earliest ice businesses such as Southland Ice Co. into modern-day convenience stores.

At the beginning of each day, Monarch employee Mike Vadsarya said, the staff will fill about 25 bags of ice from the large ice maker to load the ice machine outside on the sidewalk. Vadsarya said during the summer they sell out almost every day. From November to March, they sell almost none.

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