By Dan O'Brien
LOWELL -- First of all, it's not yogurt.
But if the concept of "shaved snow" ever takes off on the East Coast, as Jennifer Ho says it already has out West, then you'll know it started in Lowell.
Ho, a 24-year-old who graduated this spring from UMass Lowell, recently teamed with her fiancee, Nyden Heng, to open a new treat shop, Snowdaes, in the HBSS Building at 1075 Westford St. And while yogurt shops have quickly sprouted up in Lowell and the suburbs over the past two years, this concept is different, she said.
"It's shaved snow," she said of the Taiwanese treat that she discovered during a trip to California two years ago.
Ho explained that the process of creating shaved snow begins with the flash freezing of naturally flavored blocks. The frozen blocks are then placed into a blender-like machine, where they are "shaved" into a fine ribbon-like material and placed into styrofoam dish.
"It takes seconds," Ho said, as Heng quickly whipped up a strawberry-flavored dish.
Snowdaes offers 13 flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, green tea and honeydew. But mango orange is the most popular so far, Ho said.
Next, the customer can choose from among three-dozen toppings, including a variety of nuts, fruits, sauces and creams.
A small cup goes for $3, with a medium selling for $5.50 and a large for $7.50. All cups come with one free topping. Additional toppings are 50 cents apiece.
"It's been going great so far," Ho said, adding that despite opening during the heart of vacation season, in mid-August, the store quickly drew a following on Instagram.
"People have come up from Boston, and down from New Hampshire," she said. "It has been better than we thought. We will see what happens once school starts."
Ho is confident that traffic will remain steady, as the HBSS Building also houses a medical center and a Kumon education facility.
"People come out of those places and get curious about what we are doing here," Ho said.
She said a Korean chicken franchise, Bon Chon, that recently opened a few doors down, has also added to foot traffic.
"They come here for dessert," she said.
Ho, who split her childhood on both U.S. coasts, said once she began studying at UMass Lowell, she was determined to open her own business.
"I figure you can either get a job or make a job," she said. "And it hasn't been easy to get a job."
With her business degree in hand, and the taste of shaved snow permanently ensconced in her memory, Ho and Heng first looked to Boston to open their business. Too expensive, they found.
"Nothing was reasonable," she said. "If we do really well here, maybe we go back."
The couple were determined to be conservative in their financing. They used a combination of Heng's savings with a loan from Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union.
So far, it's paid off.
"I've already gotten calls to franchise this concept," Ho said, adding that is something she hopes to do -- but on her terms.
"I fell in love with it, ate it countless times before I had to come back here. Once I got back, there wasn't anything that compared to it."
Snowdaes also sells shaved ice, bubble teas, coffees, teas and fresh juices.