Nothing signals the start of summer in Bakersfield quite like those iconic blue shacks popping up around town. And when they start disappearing, we know that fall is officially upon us.
But in a couple weeks, you'll be able to enjoy shaved ice from Sno Shack all year long. After more than 30 years as a seasonal business, Sno Shack will soon have a brick-and-mortar location, satisfying those shaved ice cravings even when the weather has cooled down.
"We're just excited for everything we have to offer our customers and our community," said Kara Barton, who co-owns Sno Shack in Bakersfield with her husband, Shawn.
The new store, at 11000 Brimhall Road, will open on Aug. 24 and will have more than shaved ice available, adding acai and mini doughnuts to the menu. In a just-announced partnership, the storefront will also serve Dewar's ice cream.
Though the new location brings the snacks of the shack indoors, with air-conditioning or heating depending on the season, the Bartons wanted to be sure to bring that outdoors fun vibe inside. With faux grass turf mats on the floor, sky blue walls and picnic tables, it's the best of both worlds.
"The goal is to make this a fun and inviting environment for families and youth," Shawn said, adding that the style details make it look like you're at a Sno Shack but inside.
The building is certainly no shack, but the Bartons wanted to pay homage to the small kiosks that give the business its name. On the wall by the front entrance is a mural by Vanessa Cierley, depicting a blue shack, surrounded by two hands forming the shape of a heart.
On the wall behind the cash register, there will be a three-dimensional shack facade, complete with the little window that offers a glimpse into the making of a shaved ice creation. In one corner, the white walls will soon have rotating work from young local artists, who will have the option to sell those pieces.
"It's been fun," Kara said of the process. "We've been able to really utilize a lot of our own kids' and Shackaristas' insights and talent."
The "Shackaristas," as Sno Shack calls its employees, will be serving more than shaved ice. The store will have acai, with traditional toppings like granola, fruit and peanut butter, as well as local honey from Fachin Bees Honey. Mini doughnuts will also be available. Those will come plain, with powdered sugar or cinnamon, and can have toppings like ice cream added.
"We know (shaved ice is) not as popular when it's cold, so that's why we've incorporated other dessert items," Kara said, noting that they will be able to change up the menu as they have new ideas. "We can do whatever we want with it, which is fun."
The Bartons bought Sno Shack in 2017 and were quick to work on improvements. The menu now includes a variety of toppers that can be added to shaved ice, including Nerds, Pop Rocks and Tajin. They also brought back the Sno Shack branded cups and added new reusable cups that get customers $1 off their purchase.
Working in real estate at Advanced Realty Management Inc., Kara and Shawn were approached by a friend about taking over Sno Shack, which had previously been owned by Bob and Kim Holliday, and two other owners before that.
"We saw it as an opportunity ... to work with local youth," Kara said, adding that their three daughters are involved with many activities in the community. "With real estate, it's not as easy for them to be a daily part of it."
The national Sno Shack started in Utah in 1978. While the local Sno Shack hasn't been around quite that long, it has become a staple of Bakersfield summers for the last 30-plus years.
As many a shaved ice fan has lamented the end of the season after a final icy treat, so too have the employees missed the shacks when they pack up in the fall. So a permanent storefront that will be open all year long is a win for everybody.
"Our Sno Shack fans have mentioned it a lot, as well as our Shackaristas," she said. "It gives them an opportunity to work for us year-round. Another big part is we love our community and (want to be) able to be in it all year."
For the vast majority of Sno Shack's employees, between 80 and 90 percent, working in the blue shacks has been their first job. The storefront will continue to employee teenagers, giving them a good foundation for future employment.
"It's exciting to watch them grow from one season to the next," Kara said. "Watching that growth is probably our biggest reward."
The owners said they started negotiation on the new building, which was formerly home to LoLo's Mix, in April and officially bought it in May. With a grand opening later this month, it's been all hands on deck for the Bartons.
"It's been a family effort," Kara said. "Our kids have sacrificed a lot of their summer. We definitely wanted something so as soon as we closed for the season with the shacks, this was already up and going."
Though it might take a little work to convince people that Sno Shack doesn't have to be just a summertime treat, the Bartons are confident that the business's many loyal customers will get it.
"There's a lot of excitement," Shawn said. "People are very excited to have it year-round."
With an outdoor, pet-friendly patio coming together outside and the finishing touches on the paint soon to dry, it won't be long until it feels like summer all the time at Sno Shack's storefront — without the 100-plus degree weather.
But don't worry, for those who need to see the blue shacks popping up around town to get into the summer mood, those will return next summer.
"We hear stories, and it's the memories that have been made," Kara said. "It's fun listening to all the memories. We're hoping everything we have planned will make more memories."