Sasquatch Shaved Ice a monstrously cool deal

Published Thursday, April 5, 2018
by Molly M. Fleming

Slingin’ snow cones last summer helped two students get laptop computers, but that’s only the beginning of what Sasquatch Shaved Ice wants to do for the community.

The business is part of a nonprofit organization called Big Friendly Enterprises, operated by Ranya and Whitley O’Connor. The couple also runs the Curbside Chronicle.

Whitley O’Connor oversees the shaved ice stand, which will set up again in the Plaza District. He said 2017, which was the first summer, went better than expected, and even better than what other snow-cone-stand operators said they would do. The stand sold 19,000 snow cones, with 7,600 customers returning about three times.

“From a business perspective, we did well,” he said.

The stand doesn’t operate for a profit, though. The students who work at the stand live in the Classen Ten Penn neighborhood. The Plaza District is the neighborhood’s northern boundary. The historic Gatewood neighborhood sits on the north side of the Plaza District. The surrounding districts have varying economic levels.

The O’Connors live in Classen Ten Penn and before Sasquatch opened, they often had teenagers asking to get paid to do jobs for the couple. They knew there was a need to provide jobs to young people who couldn’t get them in the district, which often needs employees with a retail or restaurant background. Transportation was also a challenge for the young people.

Ranya O’Connor had worked a snow cone stand as a teenager. It seemed like a great business idea, especially since commodity prices of sugar and ice are fairly steady.

The stand partnered with Oklahoma Employees Credit Union, which offers financial literacy classes for the six employees. Whitley O’Connor said he and Ranya were afraid the Saturday morning classes would keep people from wanting to work at the stand.

“They’ve been excited to do it,” O’Connor said. “We’ve also offered college readiness and test-prep classes. They bring their friends to those. We brought in a professional ACT tutor. After the tutor, they all increased their scores by 3.5 points.”

The O’Connors match dollar-for-dollar what the students save while working at the stands, with a goal of each employee saving at least $500. During the first summer, the employees saved a cumulative $3,298, so they exceeded the $500 per person.

The dollar match comes when the students use the money for college or a life-enriching opportunity, such as buying a car. Two employees have used the money for a laptop, while another has used it to buy a car.

O’Connor said he went with his employee to purchase the car. The student was offered a 12-percent interest rate, and because of the financial literacy class, he turned down the car because he knew it wasn’t a good deal. O’Connor helped him find a car he could afford.

This year, O’Connor said, he hopes to be able to use some of the money from the stand to take the employees on out-of-state college visits. He said since the stand is opening sooner this year, and if the efficiency has improved, there will be more money put back into the program.

The stand is being moved in the district and will set up at NW 16th Street and Indiana Avenue, near the Lyric Theatre Thelma Gaylord Academy.

Getting it approved last year to even be in the district came with some challenges at the Urban Design Commission. It’s in a metal shipping container, which doesn’t fit the area’s aesthetic. But district developer Steve Mason said businesses like Sasquatch are important because the district needs activities for children and adults. It also provides employment to neighborhood children.

O’Connor said that one downside of the district is gentrification. As the area has improved, neighbors on the south side of 16th Street have trouble affording the food and goods sold in the Plaza District.

“Gentrification is tough,” Mason said. “Thoughtful gentrification is important. We want to keep welcoming the existing neighbors into the district. We want to keep welcoming those residents that showed up before I was there six years ago.”

He applauded the O’Connors and their work in the city. He said anything Ranya O’Connor does is kind.

“It’s important that we do kind work for others,” Mason said.

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