Written by By Alix Roll, CNN San Francisco, California, Follow Alix Roll on Twitter
After 44 years and 875 locations around the world, Sno-Kone has officially added another HQ to its roster. And the San Francisco bubble tea chain says it didn’t give up until the job was done.
“We’re just a pretty small company,” chief executive Patrick Balog explained to CNN Travel at his brand’s fourth CAFÉ location in Salt Lake City, in Utah, early last month. “They can force you to move fast and make decisions. It was a matter of us taking action and, without a doubt, it’s all the way up here in San Francisco.”
After the negotiations, Balog and Sno-Kone’s San Francisco HQ chief executive officer Jon Norman held a controlled morning of crushing ice in an interior walk-in freezer. The reason? Ice is the brand’s most expensive ingredient.
Ice cream is also a major part of the menu’s presentation and the process of making ice cream is a very familiar one for those familiar with the dessert from home — if one of those being Balog and Norman.
The pair hail from a background of handling recipes and building organizations — Balog spent nine years working in business with PepsiCo in Asia, and Norman served as the CEO of Pizza Party in Israel — before returning to the food scene in San Francisco. Sno-Kone arrived in the Bay Area in 2014 after breaking ground in London.
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The moment the team knew it would make it to HQ was when its employees celebrated it with five hours of singing.
“Everyone was in costume,” said Balog. “It was kind of amazing.”
“And then around 6 a.m. we had everybody start singing ‘Aha! We found the recipe,’” said Norman.
The spark to create the sweet new location was born in August 2017. When Hologram Stanford University, a cultural engagement project led by San Francisco-based group GeekKeeper , was starting a food tour at the university, “they heard about this crazy, out-of-the-box concept,” said Balog. “They jumped at the chance.”
The group in turn began to search out of-the-box offerings for its tour. The response came in the form of a concept, and it would be a pretty big test to see how well the concept would work for a pop-up restaurant.
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“We’re really concerned about six months,” Norman remembers of the preparation. “It is an uphill climb.”
While a Super Bowl football game was on, the design and construction team surveyed the building in a two-day window.
“We have a similar system,” said Balog. “We do pop-ups in a little more of a rapid fashion. People respond better because they are reacting to the actual thing being sold.”
Sno-Kone brought in a restaurant and food service manager from Swifty’s, the ice cream shop that first brought its bubble tea to America, and the project began to unfold. The point was to quickly get the store up and running and shut it down and then call in more employees to start making the ice cream.
“We asked if we could order the ingredients before building the store,” said Balog.
The philosophy, in essence, was, as to “buy cheap and sell cheap,” Balog explained. “It’s cheap and easy. We would order the cakes on the line. We would pay for the printing presses and for the ice cream dispensers. We would get it all at the end of the week. We would shut it down. You have no more on the line.”
Pop-up ice cream store opening in S.F. from San Francisco Pop-Up Shop. Credit: Courtesy San Francisco Pop-Up Shop
That may sound like good business, but ultimately, the experience was fun for the employees.
“It was amazing to watch people put on their costumes,” said Balog. “They were wowed. A lot of them got very emotional.”
The first CAFÉ in San Francisco, the first location in India, and the third store in Singapore were also locations of fun talks, and for entrepreneurs Balog and Norman are also no strangers to.
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“Before opening one of these stores we would come in and have a little meeting,” said Balog. “We really looked at it as, ‘How can we make