Yellow Sno Cone Shack

In her previous career, Julia Shelby was drawn to the heat. Now, she helps the folks in Saline County beat it. Julia, a retired Little Rock Fire Department Captain, is now a small-business owner, having bought the Yellow Sno Cone Shack in the summer of 2020.

 “I really enjoy seeing the families come out,” she said. “They are all so happy. The kids are having fun. We strive to offer a fun place to enjoy a summer night.”

 As COVID-19 gripped the country in the spring of 2020, Julia was about to retire from a 27-year career as a firefighter. Her son, River Gregory, was getting ready to finish his junior year, and she wanted to enjoy his senior season of football at Bryant High School. So, she knew she was going to retire but wasn’t sure what she’d do to fill some of the time.

 That’s when her nephew, Race, had an idea. He wanted to run a snow cone stand together. Julia, who was almost 52 at the time, and her firefighter husband, Andrew, knew Ryan McCormick, the then-owner of the Yellow Sno Cone Shack. River had worked for McCormick at the business part-time and they were also volunteers on the Collegeville Fire Department together.

Julia approached McCormick about buying the business. Though at first he was reluctant, he eventually agreed. The new owners took over in August with McCormick helping guide them for the final month of the season.

 “Everything was shut down and all of River’s football team camps and junior days were cancelled, so we were just bored to death,” she said. “Ryan showed us the ropes, and we got a feel for it.”

  The first full season of owning the business, located on Hwy 5 near First Security Bank in Bryant, was a proving ground for Shelby and her nephew. After one summer of running it together they decided to part ways, as Race was working full time and commuting from NLR while also raising three small children with his wife Danielle. 

 “It’s a lot more work than we thought,” Julia said. “It was nothing I was really looking to do, but I was doing a lot of the work because he was driving in, so we agreed I would buy him out.”

 What Shelby didn’t bank on was the prep time—a process McCormick had inherited when he first bought the business before passing it on to Julia. Around 8 on summer mornings, Julia arrives at the stand to pull out blocks of ice. The amount depends on the forecast. If it’s predicted to be a nice, warm day, more ice is prepared. If the forecast is gloomy there will be less. The ice must soften to run through the shaver. Shaved ice is soft and not like the old-school snow cones with a crunchy texture, Julia explained. Also, unlike the old-school product, the flavors are not just based on a handful of syrups. Julia’s stand offers dozens of flavors and those need to be mixed from concentrate. There is also the task of preparing the cream topping that most customers enjoy on their shaved ice. 

 Business has been good, but there have been challenges. Masks and hand sanitizer were a must the first full season, as COVID was still in its pandemic stages. Then, in 2022, a massive road construction project on Hwy 5 slowed business considerably and forced Julia to close the stand before the season was over. 

 “The construction was terrible,” she said. “Some days the parking lot was full of mud or construction equipment while they were widening [the road]. We were thinking about moving because the construction traffic was hurting business, but Ryan told us not to give up the spot.”

 It was good advice. Julia saw a huge uptick in business the first of May last year. The previous year, she might have prepared eight or ten blocks of ice to supply the cones for an average day. However, starting early May till the middle of June of 2023 she was preparing 20 to 22 blocks of ice and sometimes had to close early because they were out of ice.

“I hate turning people away, and customers don’t understand how we run out, especially when they have a disappointed little one,” she said. 

 If you swing by the stand this summer, you will see Julia waiting on customers some. She employs a few teenagers to man the stand, including her 13-year-old daughter, Drew. “It’s been good for Drew to learn the responsibilities of working,” Julia said. “Sometimes, she doesn’t want to spend her Saturdays at the stand, but she is learning the value of earning a dollar and is already a savvy money manager.”

 River is back at the stand full-time this summer, having come home the first of April from a 9-month overseas deployment, and is preparing to go back to college in the fall. “Having him back home to lean on and share the workload has been a huge relief.”

 Though Julia herself sometimes questions her second career, she nevertheless has found its rewards.

 “Sometimes when I am prepping in the morning, I wonder what I have done,” she said with a laugh. “I sometimes miss my old friends [at the firehouse], but this is a new season of life.”