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– Leon Bacchus speaks of his 23 years as a ‘shave ice vendor
By Joel Vogt
You will often hear them before you see them; a ring of a bell or sharp toot of a horn gets your attention or the shout they make, alerting you that snow cones are on sale.
Growing up in Guyana and even around the Caribbean, snow cones have always seemed to be a treat and more readily available, and not forgetting, a little child’s craving.
Residents of Region Three may know the snow cone man or vendor, who pedals his bicycle cart down to the Vreed-en-Hoop junction with his shaved ice box and flavourings attached, under a huge colourful umbrella and most times parks and sells outside the well traversed Vreed-en-Hoop Stelling. This 54-year-old Leon Bacchus or Uncle George as he is commonly called, resides in the peaceful community of Best Road, West Coast Demerara with his family and has been selling snow cones for the past 23 years after he left his job as a handyman at B. Bhaichandeen Limited in April 1997.
Not being paid enough for his labour at his previous job, Uncle George resigned and with constant talk of starting his own business, he immediately bought a snow cone maker or shaved ice box, as many of us may call it, followed by a bicycle and ventured into his business.
“Every morning I used to get up and ask God to bless me with something that I can have off my own. It didn’t take me long to decide to start this snow cone business and up to this day I never regret it. Since I’ve been selling, it has benefited me, my children and wife,” he said.
He added, that everything he owns, from his land, house and sending his children to school and bettering their lives, comes from his daily snow cone business. Uncle George, a father of three sons, started selling snow cones on the public road, but after the competition with three other snow cone vendors and himself, he moved to the Vreed-en-Hoop Secondary School, where he got his call name “Uncle George.” “When I started, they had a lot of fight to get customers and who sold the best snow cones… because it was four of us. So I stopped selling on the road and start at the [aforementioned] school, selling snow cones for $40 and $60 with condensed milk. But since school is out, I’m back on the road, being the only snow cone vendor,” Uncle George added.
Despite the challenges and competition the job has, uncle George’s love for the job keeps him going and he is also optimistic that he will continue to go beyond the limits, fight against all odds and become more successful at what he does. He said: “Everything in this life has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to you if you’re willing to go through that or back out and miss the opportunities. With everything that is happening around us now, I never give up because I’m sure better will come; if not now then someday.”
With the primary goals of supporting his family financially, to be specific, and quenching the thirst of his customers with his flavoured ‘tasty’ snow cones, Uncle George has planned to advance his business by building a snow cone shop and additional flavours in syrup, among others.
Snow cone vending may appear to be an easy, fast money making business, but for Uncle George, most snow cone vendors are in the business for the fast making of money, but for him, the interest should be in the taste of the syrup. “Most of them [snow cone vendors] interested in getting the money and not preparing their syrup properly. In this business, you have to know if people would like the flavours and the syrup taste. Customers likes and dislikes come first,” he explained.
The snow cone vendor, responding to a question, said the snow cone business now, when compared to years ago, has changed, since there is a competition with other easy handmade beverages. “Long time snow cone was snow cone; now they have all these fancy juices, slushies, and people more prefer those things. So people are more attracted to those and that’s what they buy.”For Uncle George, his usual local flavours in syrup are made of fruits such as tamarind, pine, passion fruit, sorrel and sometimes ginger, among other fruits of choice.
Uncle George’s advice for persons who intend to start a snow cone business is to plan, set their minds and be willing to go the extra miles and beyond. “If you’re willing you have to go for it and make a try… you won’t know unless you try. This is a job anybody would love because by the end of the week, you would make a lot of money, and most importantly, find happiness in whatever you do,” he advised aspiring snow cone vendors.