There are two creeds Darin and Jennifer Capes, co-owners of Coconuts Ice Cream on 115 S. Gilmer St., live by for their business.
Number one, the technical term is “shave ice,” not “shaved ice,” and never “snow cone.” And number two, never forget — “this paycheck made possible by our customers.”
It’s an ethic Darin takes to heart so much he literally writes it on all of his employees’ pay envelopes.
“If we didn’t have customers, we couldn’t have made this happen,” the Woodland, Alabama, native said. “There would be no reason for us to be in business.”
The husband and wife team launched their first shave ice business in Cartersville 21 years ago and have commandeered their shop at its current location for 14.
The shave ice business has been a focal point in the lives of the Capes long before they got married, had their seven children or even opened their own local ice cream shop.
In fact, in a roundabout way, it’s what brought them together in the first place.
“We actually met where I worked at a Super 8, which was across the street from a little shave ice stand,” Jennifer said.
“I was in Arizona working on a job there, and she was the cute desk clerk,” Darin recollected. “This was 1995, so it was pre-email, so we exchanged addresses and wrote letters and made long distance phone calls.”
Very expensive long distance calls, Jennifer reminded him. “He had tried the shave ice across the street and I had been there before ... it was a Sno Biz, and then, we started our own Sno Biz here in Cartersville.”
Names: Darin and Jennifer Capes
Ages: 48 and 43, respectively
Occupational Titles: Co-owners of Coconuts Ice Cream
City of Residence: Cartersville
Education: LaGrange College (Darin), St. Cloud State University (Jennifer)
Favorite flavor: Chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone and blue raspberry shave ice (Darin); Mint Chocolate chip ice cream and strawberry daiquiri shave ice (Jennifer)
DTN: Where did the idea to start your own shave ice business come from?
Darin Capes (DC): Originally, it was going to be something for my wife to do. I moved here for a job in 1997 ... we were married Feb. 28 that same year. We drove a Penske truck across the country and [we’ve] been here ever since.
Jennifer Capes (JC): That year, we bought our first building ... we were actually in the Battle Foods parking lot, a Sno Biz just across the street from where we are now.
DTN: What’s the origin of the name “Coconuts?”
DC: When we moved over here to this building in 2004, we really wanted our own name. We had a long list of tropical names and Coconuts just seemed to fit.
JC: Sno Biz is a Hawaiian style shave ice, not a New Orleans style, so we wanted to keep with that theme ... we wanted something tropical.
DTN: So what’s the difference between Hawaiian shave ice and New Orleans shave ice?
DC: The shaver makes the most difference there. We use an upright shaver that spins the block over one blade. New Orleans style shavers have three blades that you push the block into with a lever.
JC: We use a spinner and they use what is often called a tractor. We can better control the quality of our ice.
DC: Well, I wouldn’t say “a tractor.” That’s more of a derogatory term. But the quality of the ice should be better with ours because we get longer flakes.
DTN: How much ice do you go through in a year?
JC: I’d have to check my water bill. Back in the day when we used to purchase it, we could tell you that, but now that we make our own ... we don’t keep up with it.
DTN: Have you ever been to Hawaii?
JC: Yes. He’s been twice and we’ve been once together. The funny thing is while on vacation, we never saw [literal Hawaiian ice].
DC: This was before we were in the business, so we’ve never actually had [literal] Hawaiian ice.
JC: But we have had some employees and customers who have, and some say ours is even better than the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, and that is the ultimate of compliments.
DTN: What’s it like being a mom and pop business in Cartersville these days?
DC: It certainly has its challenges, but it’s very rewarding as well.
JC: Our family has literally been raised in this store, and customers come in all the time and look at our kids and say “I remember you! I’ve been coming since you were a little baby!” And I love that. The customers are definitely a big reward. Seeing the same people when we first started, some of the same teenagers ... now they’re adults and they have their own kids and they’re bringing them here. It feels really cool to be a part of a multi-generational thing.
DTN: About how many customers do you see a day?
DC: It really varies. In the summer, it’s hundreds.
DTN: What’s the most unusual Tsunami (ice cream and shave ice hybrid) you’ve ever had a customer order?
JC: It’s got to be the Guatemalan guy who gets Butterfinger ice cream and guava and pineapple on top.
DC: His daughter gets coffee almond fudge ice cream with cola ... I’m more of a vanilla kind of guy, but we make some interesting Tsunamis.
DTN: What’s the most difficult thing about ice shaving?
DC: It really is an art, and we obviously want every product we make to be right. So, training the crew to do the ice and to do it right. Every customer is different. Some customers want one flavor, some customers want three flavors.
JC: Or they want heavy syrup or light syrup.
DC: So, you really have to adjust. The shaving has to be right, the pouring has to be right, the toppings have to be right or else you end up with a bowl of soup.
DTN: Have you ever considered expanding the menu, especially during the colder winter months?
DC: When we first moved here in 2004, we offered coffee, but we ended up drinking more than we sold.
JC: We did consider soup or sandwiches, but two things about that. One, there’s limited space, and two, we never wanted to lose our identity as the shave ice and ice cream store.
DC: You can’t be all things to all people, so I would rather do just a few things and do them well rather than do everything and do them all mediocre. There are a lot of examples of ice cream places that tried to add on to make up for their lean seasons ... personally, I don’t want to come to an ice cream shop and smell hot dogs, but that’s me.
DTN: Do you have a favorite local event you cater, or a favorite business partner?
DC: We’ve been doing cross country meets almost as long as we’ve been open.
JC: Our first event was with the Cartersville Little League. We didn’t even have a cart. We just brought our shavers and set it on a picnic table.
DC: We’ve done Roselawn for almost 19 years. It’s a great place. They’ve been so kind to us over the years. For many years we struggled, so we couldn’t give back as much as we would have liked. But now, we’re trying to be more generous. I want to be a giver and not a taker.
DTN: What are your most popular flavors?
JC: Week in, week out, vanilla and chocolate are No. 1 and No. 2.
DC: Shave ice? It’s probably blue raspberry and Tiger’s Blood.
JC: It has a great name — it’s strawberry and coconut.
DTN: Lastly, what advice would you like to give small business owners in Bartow County?
JC: Just hang in there. It is hard work.
DC: And customer service. Always treat your customer as you would be treated.
JC: Yeah. If you lose focus on the customer, then there’s no reason for you to be in business.