Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Monday, Aug. 17, 2009 | 1:59 a.m.
Jeff Brunner always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Fascinated by flight simulator games and the roar of jets, he knew that he belonged among the clouds.
The recent high school graduate hoped to be headed to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the “Harvard of the Skies,” this fall to earn a bachelor’s degree before enlisting in the Air Force as an officer.
But his flights of fancy were grounded because, like Ivy League schools, tuition at the aeronautic academy was too hefty for him to afford without scholarships. Brunner attended three high schools, public and private, and that created confusion about how many credits he had earned to be classified as a senior in his final year. By the time it was cleared up, the deadline to apply for scholarships had passed.
Unwilling to scrap his plans for a life-long military career, Brunner decided he would try to pay for school himself and, at 18 years old, started his own business.
Six weeks ago, Brunner opened up Shave Ice Paradise, a mobile stand that sells flavored snowballs.
Known elsewhere as snow cones or shaved ice, the frozen treats Brunner sells are New Orleans-style, he said.
“It’s the most popular thing in New Orleans. They’re everywhere, these stands,” he said. “Every place has a different name for what is basically called a snow cone. It’s shaved ice in some places. It’s shave ice in Hawaii, without the ‘d.’ The Spanish community calls them raspados.”
His parents divorced when he was in elementary school and he split his childhood growing up in North Las Vegas and New Orleans. Some of his summers were spent helping his father and grandfather rebuild their home after Hurricane Katrina.
“(A snowball) is one thing I miss from back home,” he said.
The treat has been popular with a few other New Orleans expatriates, people who can’t eat dairy and other loyal customers who have discovered his multi-hued stand in North Las Vegas, Brunner said.
Brunner explained that what differentiates a New Orleans snowball from a snow cone is the block of ice and the machine that shaves it rather than crushes it. The result is a fine snow-like powder instead of chunks of jagged ice.
Plus, the shave ice is served in a Styrofoam cup, not a paper one, so it won’t leak colored water on your hands.
Brunner took what little money he had saved for college, borrowed a little more from his mother, and purchased the stand in January from a local woman after finding her ad on Craigslist.
He hoped to open for business the day after graduation and have a second stand by the end of this summer. Unfortunately, Brunner has spent his summer learning the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly.
It took him six months to get the licenses and permits from the city and Southern Nevada Health District. Then two weeks after he opened, city code enforcement told him he had the wrong license.
He feared that he would have to close just as he had started his first entrepreneurial endeavor.
The licenses from the city and health district must be the same by law. The problem is the city doesn’t offer the right license. At least not yet.
In a show of support for local businesses, city officials said they would draft an amendment to a city ordinance that would allow Brunner’s type of semi-permanent vendor business. It will take several months, but the stand can remain open and Brunner won’t incur penalties, said Lana Hammond, Business License manager.
Navigating the rules and regulations of various departments has been one challenge. Another was finding a shopping center that would allow him to place his trailer in the parking lot. After making phone calls to 30 or 40 places, Brunner finally found an owner who coincidentally shared his passion for flying and allowed him to set up at the Desert Oaks Plaza, 4090 Craig Road, near Decatur Boulevard.
With his college dreams delayed for another year, Brunner is taking classes at the College of Southern Nevada and last year earned his license to fly single-engine propeller planes. He said he applied and was accepted at Embry-Riddle and still qualifies for one military scholarship that would cover tuition. He can apply in December for the scholarship but the selection process is lengthy and competitive, he said.
He remains optimistic the ice business will take off and he’ll be able to hand it over to his mother when he leaves for college. Until then, he said he believes he is learning the leadership and responsibility he’ll need in the Air Force.
“It’s given me a lot more time to prepare,” he said. “While all these other kids have been in regular, steady school, they knew what they were doing, they had time, I was here, I was there, I was in New Orleans. I didn’t have the time to prepare for it as much as I would like. One of the things they look for in the scholarship is leadership. They say ‘you have your own pilot’s license, you have your own business. You’re not just sitting home all summer hanging out with your buddies doing nothing.’”
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