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While on his honeymoon in Hawaii, with his wife Tiffany, Andy Ruff had a business idea. “We stopped and ate at a shop and thought it was great and we loved the texture and flavor (of the treat,” Andy told us.
That treat? Shaved ice. The business venture would take another thirteen years, but the Ruff’s knew they could make shaved ice popular in the area. Though Ruff knows the business won’t make them rich, it comes with a much greater purpose.
“It gives my wife and I multiple hours a day, anywhere from five all the way up to twelve or fourteen hours on some days, where we can teach our kids how to run a business and develop a strong work ethic,” Ruff said.
Together, the couple have two children, Kaylee (16) and Gavin (12).
In order to start the business, the family did as much research as they could about the different types of shaved ice and how to perfect the taste, along with where to house the business.
“Initially, we wanted a brick and mortar store, thinking it would be easier to get repeat customers if we were in the same location all the time,” Ruff said. “However, the problem with shaved ice in Illinois is when it’s cold, they tend to not sell as well.”
The family decided to go with a traveling concession trailer and go to as many fairs and festivals as they possibly could. “We didn’t have much money to start with, so we found a small 8×6 aluminum trailer with no air conditioning, then bought a used shaved ice machine.”
Once the trailer was setup to health department standards, the Ruff’s started making shaved ice treats for neighbors and friends. Eventually, they began doing birthday parties, events before going to festivals and fairs around Illinois. “We bought a second shaved ice machine and are now looking for a second, bigger trailer – this time with air conditioning.”
With a number of vendors selling shaved ice or sno cones, Ruff knew they had to be different from the rest. Sno cones are usually made from taking cubed ice that can be bought at most grocery stores or gas stations. These can be made at home by grinding up ice, putting it in your cup and adding the flavor that you choose, giving a crunchy or chewy texture.
Shaved ice involves taking a large five pound square block of ice, then shaving small slivers into a cup, followed by the flavor and topping. This process gives the texture of soft snow that melts in your mouth.
“Unlike most other shaved ice businesses that just mix sugar and water to create the sweet syrup, we go an extra step and boil ours which gives it a sweeter, more flavorful taste,” Ruff said. “Our process of making the syrup is more time consuming, but really makes a great product. I thinking everyone should try ours at least once and see what a real Hawaiian shaved ice is supposed to taste like.”
After shaving the large block of ice into ribbon thick layers, the ice is formed from the top into a cone shape and packed in order to keep its structure. A straw is then used to put a few holes into the bottom of the cup, then your flavor of choice is added.
“The holes are there to ensure a little of the syrup makes its way down to the bottom and flavors the entire treat, not just the top,” Andy said. “The most important thing to us is the taste of the syrup. We only use pure cane sugar, using six pounds of sugar per one gallon of water and boil it for five minutes.”
Now with the recipe for a perfect shaved ice treat created, a name had to be figured out. With a lot of people selling sno cones and shaved ice, this made it much more important to create a name that stood out.
“You can walk down any fair or festival and see multiple different companies selling them. We had to have a catchy name,” Ruff said. “Ice Ice Shavings is the name. It still makes me laugh when I say it and we had to focus on quality over quantity. While the others are making sno cones quickly, we take our time and make an extremely tasty treat.”
Finding places to set up the business has changed over the years. “At first it was a struggle, we had to call or email event and fair organizers and pitch them why they should let us come and sell at their events,” Ruff said. “We have gotten so busy now, we have actually had to turn down events because of how busy we are. That’s why we’re hoping to have a second trailer sometime soon to be in multiple locations at the same time.”
Currently, there are over ten different companies where the Ruff family can buy flavor concentrate. Flavor concentrate is the liquid that is added to the syrup to give it the taste that the customer orders. “All the different flavor providers sell very similar if not the same flavors, but all have varying distinct tastes,” Andy said. “So we had to buy the same flavor from all of them and do a taste test to determine which one we liked the best.”
The common flavors available were cherry, grape, pina colada and tigers blood. However, each had a slightly different taste. Although it’s time consuming, orders are placed for the concentrate from about six different companies.
“We have over thirty different flavors, but typically bring twelve to sixteen to each event. We’ve tried some very strange flavors, some were great and some we won’t serve because we couldn’t get over how bad they were.”
Some of Ruff’s personal favorites are either Butter Beer (from the Harry Potter Universe) or a mixture of wedding cake and ice cream flavors due to them tasting exactly like their name sake.
“The one flavor we have bought and never sold to a customer is peanut butter and jelly.”
The best seller is a tie between Blue Raspberry, Tiger’s Blood and Pink Cotton Candy.
“We also have toppings ranging from Swedish Fish, Nerds, Sour Patch Kids and Pop Rocks,” Ruff said. “We are starting to sell a lemonade freeze very soon, which is a mix between a lemon shake up and a shaved iced that will be flavored to each customer’s individual liking.”
The cost to book ‘Ice Ice Shavings’ depends on the type of event. The price usually depends on the number of people attending.
“For small events like birthday parties, we offer different levels starting at $50. We also do fundraisers like the one we did at the Junior High dance this last spring,” Ruff told us. “We set up and sold the shaved ice, then donated a percentage back to raise money. We were able to help raise over $120 for the Junior High Activities Club in just two hours.”
For larger festivals and fairs, Ice Ice Shavings has to pay the event organizers to set up. This fee can vary from $25 to $300 for a multiple day event.
If you would like to try a shaved ice treat from Ice Ice Shavings, they will be at Villa Grove Ag Days on August 5th and 6th, The Two Story Outhouse Festival in Gays, Illinois on August 14th, then Chrisman Days in September.
“Our favorite event is Chrisman Days. It’s nice to see all my students outside of the classroom setting for a change.”
Shaved ice ranges from $4.00 for a regular and $6.00 for a large.
If you would like to book Ice Ice Shavings for an event or are a vendor, you can contact Andy Ruff at 217-549-5338 or send them a message on their ‘Ice Ice Shavings’ Facebook or Instagram pages.