About Utah: Meet the Henry Ford of shaved ice

Published: Sunday, June 15 2014 11:55 p.m. MDT

From this nondescript warehouse in West Valley City, Snowie distributes shaved-ice equipment worldwide.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

TAYLORSVILLE — The idea came to him back when he wore a white shirt and tie and rode his bike to work.

In 1977, Carl Rupp — “Elder Rupp” as he was known then — was a Mormon missionary in St. Louis.

Summers were hot and Carl couldn’t help noticing long lines of people waiting to buy “New Orleans style” shaved ice at a stand on a downtown street corner.

He decided he better try one himself.

He was hooked after one taste.

I’m going home and doing this, he thought to himself ... and an empire was born.

Calling the Snowie company headquarters on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley nondescript is a serious overstatement. There’s one sign above the warehouse door and that’s it.

No banners, no blinking neon lights, no outward indications whatsoever that the very heart of the shaved-ice business worldwide is inside these doors.

But what else do you call an operation whose products can be found in all 50 states, plus the territories — and 40 countries besides?

When it comes to shaved ice, Snowie does it all. It makes the ice shavers, it makes the flavors, it makes the buildings to sell the finished product out of — and distributes all of it around the globe.

The Utah company has launched thousands upon thousands of shaved-ice businesses over the years. From teenagers looking to make a few bucks for the summer, to the guy who sets up his kiosk once a year at the county fair, to folks who make selling shaved ice their full-time occupation.

It all traces back to the unconventional, creative mind of Carl Rupp, that one-time St. Louis missionary, who is to shaved ice what Henry Ford was to the automobile.

He may not have invented it, but he sure has refined it.

Carl grew up in 1960s Taylorsville, not far from where Snowie’s headquarters is located today. He is fourth in a line of nine children, eight of them boys, born to Wally and Gloria Rupp.

Early on, his mother noticed two things about Carl: He was incredibly smart, and he didn’t fit easily into the conventional school system.

So Gloria Rupp started a crusade that resulted in what became the gifted student program.

Armed with confidence that he could chart his own course in the world, when Carl came home from that two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1978 he decided to delay going back to college so he could make good on his vow to not only replicate that shaved ice stand in St. Louis, but improve on it.

First he located the New Orleans company that made the ice shavers and ordered one.

Next, he built a portable wood building, secured a business license and placed that building — he called it the “Sno Shack” — on the corner of 4500 South and Redwood Road.

Finally, he figured he had 100 days of summer weather to sell his shaved ice and then he’d do something else.

Thirty-six years later, he’s yet to get to the "something else."

Ice is his life.

From scratch, Carl built a family enterprise that today includes brothers Gordon, who is a co-owner, Aaron and Lyle, with wife Estela and daughter Callie integrally involved.

Over the years, he's refined every facet of the business.

He’s invented his own line of ice shavers — both commercial-grade machines as well as the “Little Snowie” home ice shaver.

He’s mixed and blended hundreds of flavors, including sugar-free and all-natural varieties.

And that original wood building has spawned a fleet of lightweight fiberglass and aluminum stands that range from carts to kiosks to flavor stations to the Snowie School Bus.

For as little as $3,000, upward to $75,000, a person can contact Snowie (snowie.com) and put himself or herself in the shaved-ice business.

“I think a lot of people don’t think they can own their own company, be their own boss, do their own thing,” Carl said. “I remember how blown away I was when I first got that business license years ago. It was so easy. We show people how they can get started. Mostly, what we do is put people in business.”

Starting with himself.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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