Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Kona Ice franchisee brings treats & fundraising to southern Minnesota June 6, 2013

IT WAS THE CATCHY carnival style music that first drew me to the window, to see the colorful tropical-themed ice cream truck parked across the street from my house on a cool Monday evening. Except this wasn’t exactly an ice cream truck, as I would soon learn.

The Kona Ice Southern Lakes truck parked across the street from my house on Monday evening.

The Kona Ice Southern Lakes truck parked across the street from my house on Monday evening.

I grabbed my camera and snapped three quick photos before the vehicle pulled away from the curb, leaving me uninformed. Until I googled “Kona Ice.”

As it turns out, I know the owner of Kona Ice Southern Lakes. Faribault resident Todd Carver was just wrapping up his first day of vending flavored shaved ice when he stopped in my neighborhood.

Wednesday afternoon, his third day in business, Todd was back per my request and his offer to stop by so we could chat and I could sample Kona Ice served from his franchised truck.

Todd guides tempered, shaved ice into a cup.

Todd guides tempered, shaved ice into a cup while a neighbor boy waits.

Ice, Todd adding flavor

Todd adds French vanilla flavoring to shaved ice.

A French vanilla Kona Ice.

A French vanilla Kona Ice.

Todd had barely parked when a neighbor boy showed up for a French vanilla Kona Ice. After that, while I photographed and we sat in folding chairs on my driveway and talked shop, a half dozen more neighborhood kids arrived to try flavors like pina colada, bubblegum and blue raspberry.

A dollar bill and coins for a treat.

A dollar bill and coins for a treat.

One brought a bag of coins, parceling the needed change onto the driveway before ordering.

Me? I sampled a complimentary Tiger’s Blood, a delicious melding of strawberry and coconut, and the company’s bestselling flavor combination. Todd’s right. Kona Ice is nothing, nothing at all, like the chipped ice snow cones of my childhood carnival memories. Rather, the shaved ice, as he says, “absorbs the flavor like a sponge.” Every ice shaving is infused with flavor.

The patented Flavorware system inside the truck is duplicated on the exterior for self-service.

The patented Flavorware system inside the truck is duplicated on the exterior for self-service.

Not only that, Kona Ice features a patented system, Flavorwave, in which customers can dispense the fruit flavor(s) of choice onto the shaved ice. Thirty other special flavors are available upon request and prepared by Todd.

Todd advises customers to count to three to get just the right amount of flavoring on their shaved ices.

A neighbor girls flavors her shaved ice at the self-serve Flavorwave dispenser.

With prices ranging from $2 for a kiddie size to $5 for an oversized color-changing plastic cup (which you can bring back for $3 refills), Todd notes that Kona Ice is an affordable treat.

Parked on the side street by my house Wednesday afternoon.

Parked on the side street by my house Wednesday afternoon.

As much as this new businessman raves about the product, it is the fundraising aspect of this company which sold him on purchasing a Kona Ice franchise, the fourth one in Minnesota. Two are based in the Twin Cities metro with the third in Duluth.

Ask Todd to show up at a fundraiser for your school, sports team, nonprofit or such and he’ll cut you a check for 20 percent of his sales before he drives away.

This is where the story of this life-long Faribault resident, without full-time employment since February 2010, gets personal. Todd remembers the kindness of a local businessman who hand-made a uniform for him when he joined the community’s first traveling basketball team. There was no uniform to fit the five-foot, 10-inch tall middleschooler, towering above his teammates, until the kind man stepped up to help.

“I never forgot that,” Todd says.

For that reason, he is eager to give back, to help kids. He’s been a player and a coach, raised two now college-age sons, Marshall and Logan. They will assist with the business as will wife Gail, a Christian day school teacher. He understands fundraising. That giving back to the community proved the pivotal selling point for his mobile franchise which covers the region from south of Owatonna into the Farmington and Lakeville area.

Nationwide, Kona Ice expects to reach $10 million in givebacks to communities in more than 40 states by the end of 2013.

The colorful characters which are part of the Kona story are displayed on the colorful truck.

The characters which are part of the Kona story are displayed on the colorful truck.

Todd also likes the educational aspect of Kona Ice—which offers an app with games for kids—and the fictional storyline of Kona the penguin (from the island of Gooba Jooba) and friends Crabbington, Squawksworth (a parrot), dolphins Splish and Splash, and Solomon the Sun.

This new franchise owner brings experience vending county fair concessions in high school, a background in finance as treasurer at his church, a long-time desire to own a food-related business and an enthusiasm for working with people to Kona Ice Southern Lakes.

Todd advises customers to count to three as they dispense flavor onto the ice, to get the right amount of flavoring.

Todd advises customers to count to three as they dispense flavor onto the ice, to get the right amount of flavoring.

Just days into vending, Todd’s already served Kona Ice at a daycare graduation—driving across town to get his truck, tempering his ice to April snowfall snowball consistency and arriving within 50 minutes of getting the request.

Mostly, he’s meandering through Faribault neighborhoods, like mine, with that “beautiful billboard” of a truck, introducing adults and kids alike to Kona Ice.

Enjoying her Kona Ice.

Enjoying her Kona Ice.

He revels in customers’ first-bite “wow” reactions like:

“Holy cow, this really tastes good.”



Flavor jugs and dispensing system inside the truck.

Flavor jugs and dispensing system inside the truck.

FYI: To book Kona Ice Southern Lakes for your next fundraiser, contact Todd at tcarver@kona-ice.com or call (507) 330-4514. Please tell Todd I sent you.

Click here to reach the company website and learn more details about every aspect of Kona Ice.

Click here to reach the Facebook page of Todd’s Kona Ice business.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From shy teen to confident artist, entertainer & business woman August 21, 2012

Jodi Gustafson of Big Shoe Entertainment begins transforming young Owen’s face into a Ghost Rider’s skull mask at the recent Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest in Faribault.

IMAGINING 37-YEAR-OLD JODI GUSTAFSON—also known as Lollipop the Clown, Jenius Strangeways or the proprietor of Big Shoe Entertainment and Jodelle’s Finery—as a once shy teen weaving down the hallways of Richfield and Coon Rapids high schools seems an impossibility.

But this vivacious and confident small business owner, whom I met at the recent Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest in Faribault where she was transforming faces through her stunning full face painting, reveals an adolescent timidness that contradicts her very public professions.

“I hated being shy,” said Gustafson, who recalls turning red if anyone so much as said “hi” to her. Determined to overcome that shyness, she eventually, and purposefully, chose a job with the United Way which involved public speaking.

“I knew I would never change if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone.”

That decision proved pivotal for Gustafson when a company wanted a carnival theme for its campaign but couldn’t afford to hire a clown. Gustafson volunteered, thinking clowning couldn’t be all that difficult. She was wrong, but continued anyway with the clowning which led to painting cheek art and then, with the encouragement of Cindy Trusty of Cindy’s Creative Celebrations, to full face painting and finally the official formation of Big Shoe Entertainment in the early 2000s.

Owen’s half-mask skull evolves under Gustafson’s skillful hands. She contracts her work for community and private events (such as birthday parties) and with corporations (such as for company picnics).

Today this mother of three (ages three to 17) operates two successful small businesses from her Bloomington home. Big Shoe Entertainment, encompassing clowning, balloon twisting, airbrushed and glitter tattoos, henna and crazy hair, but primarily full face painting, keeps her crazy busy, especially during the summer, with gigs throughout Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The pace slows during the other seasons.

An assortment of the make-up, all with FDA-approved ingredients and meant to be used on the body and face, which Gustafson uses for face painting.

In anywhere from one to five minutes Gustafson, with brushes and make-up pads and an array of colorful make-up, can transform a face into a work of art. She’s morphed five billion faces, she exaggerates, into butterflies, and also creates lots of flowers and princesses, and masks such as skull, dragon and Mardi Gras.

She especially enjoys painting “gore” faces, but seldom has the opportunity.

Owen sits perfectly still as Gustafson paints. Some kids squirm or won’t close their eyes, meaning she sometimes needs to adjust her work to eliminate painting around the eyes or needs to explain step by step what she is doing. Typically, Gustafson doesn’t talk while painting faces.

She’s always learning—from videos, books, classes and practice. That practice includes painting designs all over her arms and legs while relaxing at home in front of the television. Gustafson puts her own spin on existing patterns via color choices and painting style, defining her work as her own in a profession that’s becoming more saturated. Yet, most are not at her level of expertise, she says, in an honest, but not boastful, way.

Gustafson works with two agents and occasionally hires independent contractors to assist at events where she can’t handle the volume solo. She’s picky, though, and chooses only the best artists.

American Family Insurance of Faribault sponsored free full face painting by Gustafson at the recent Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest. Lines were long. Gustafson painted for five hours, averaging 20 – 25 faces per hour. If she returns next year, she’ll bring another painter, she says, to shorten those lines.

All of this is interesting given Gustafson early on was intimidated by full face painting. Clearly she’s not anymore as she works with the swiftness and assurance of a skilled artist. She always had an interest in art, she says, but not the confidence. She took art classes in high school and moved on to painting still lifes in acrylic on canvas, something she has no time for now.

Besides mothering and operating Big Shoe Entertainment, Gustafson also owns Jodelle’s Finery, specializing in Renaissance and Victorian “garb.” That’s her term, “garb,” referencing the durable period clothing she fashions, as opposed to “costumes,” for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and steam punk events. (Steam punk fashion, since I didn’t know and perhaps you don’t either, is Victorian clothing with a technological, sci-fi twist.)

Even Jodelle’s Finery, in typical Gustafson fashion, has an interesting beginning. When pregnant with her middle child, Gustafson was feeling quite domestic and taught herself to sew. Her first project was a baby quilt. Today she’s advanced to sewing that garb for others and for her role as the street performer Jenius Strangeways at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Yes, this once shy teen morphed into an actress too—role playing at the Renaissance and on the stages of community theaters in Faribault (where she lived until moving to Bloomington in June), Owatonna and Northfield.

“I don’t like to be still,” claims Gustafson, who before she took on the Renaissance acting gig two years ago, worked in shops at the Minnesota festival.

Owen’s skull face mask is almost done.

Yet, in the middle of all that public busyness of painting faces and clowning and acting, Gustafson says she still occasionally slips back in to the quiet, nervous and shy Jodi of years past. That happens, she explains, if she’s not role-playing and doesn’t know anyone at an event she’s working.

Mostly, though, she’s made a choice to get past her shyness, to be the strong and confident woman who paints faces, entertains and clothes entertainers via her two successful businesses.

Owen opens his eyes for the great reveal.

FYI: Jodi Gustafson doesn’t have a website for Big Shoe Entertainment, so don’t bother trying to find one. You may contact her via email at gusjodi@gmail.com or call her at (952) 215-4544. You can also check out her Jodelle’s Finery Facebook page by clicking here.

I initially developed this post idea to showcase Gustafson’s full face painting because I was so impressed by her work. But when I interviewed her about a week later and learned how she overcame her shyness, that became the real story. I hope you will be inspired, as I am, by Gustafson’s determination to overcome an obstacle, change and pursue her passions in life as her professions.

Gustafson transformed Isaac into a tiger at the Faribault festival.

Isabella, 7, of Faribault, became a dalmatian under Gustafson’s crafting. Butterflies and dalmatians proved the most popular paintings chosen by attendees at the Faribault fest.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling