A Taste of N’awlins
City warms to icy treat from Big Easy
by Julie Turkewitz, Atlanta Journal
Haley Dorfman’s stilettos click-clacked on the pavement as she approached the lime-green trailer at the far end of the Shell station in Midtown.
“Um, excuse me?” the 17-year-old said to the fellow leaning out the trailer’s window, ice cream man-style. “What is this?”
It’s a question New Orleans native Kenneth Woodfin hears a lot lately. From this window, the 26-year-old Katrina evacuee dispenses genuine New Orleans Snowballs: snowflake-thin ice saturated in candy-flavored syrup and topped condensed milk.
Hurricane Katrina hustled Woodfin into Georgia with 100,000 other evacuees. Now, as former Gulf Coast residents make homes in new places, he’s one of many infusing New Orleans traditions into cities around the nation. His snowballs – not to be confused with their less refined cousin, the snow cone – act as his contribution to Atlanta’s famous cultural gumbo.
Icy treat: Makers of snowballs land here
“Georgians, they don’t know snowballs,” Woodfin said. “So this business, it’s kind of a way for me to stay true to home, but also to make a new path in life.”
Underlying Woodfin’s enterprise is concern that the hurricane altered the city’s spirit and that evacuees must act as carriers of its traditions.
Like sweet tea and the South, Woodfin can’t separate New Orleans and snowballs. When he lived in the Big Easy, there were more stands than Starbucks dotting street corners. Locals sold them in all the usual flavors – strawberry, mango, grape – and in other, less conventional ones, like peanut butter, tiger blood and egg custard.
Because the area had nothing like New Orleans snowball stands in its neighborhoods, several metro counties turned down Woodfin’s business proposal. But after he set up in Midtown, his stand quickly morphed into a central spot for people caught up in the Katrina exodus.
Since he opened Memorial Day weekend, dozens of former New Orleanians have crowded around the trailer, rediscovering their favorite flavors and asking for condensed milk on their cones, the telltale sign of a New Orleans native, Woodfin said.
Regulars stop by often. “Almond Joy Alex” visits almost daily for a taste of coconut creamy goodness. The “Chocolate Family,” who lived in the area more than 10 years ago, now comes weekly to indulge in chocolate snowballs. The “Spearmint Lady” bought her own minty syrup, just so she could have her favorite flavor. Angie and Sarah, customers with ties to New Orleans, insisted Woodfin offer sugar-free wedding cake flavor, which he buys in New Orleans along with all his other supplies.
Tiffany Compass, Woodfin’s 24 year old girlfriend, works weekends at the snowball stand. “ New Orleanians come by and say, “These taste exactly like the ones from home, “ she said. “When we see each other, even when it’s not people we knew, there is a bit of camaraderie.”
When Woodfin came to Atlanta, he thought he’d stay three days. By the time he returned to salvage the remains of his home, it was black and smelly with mildew.
Only his daughter’s fish, Kisha, and his computer, tucked away on a high shelf, were unharmed.
Both Compass and Woodfin were born and bred in New Orleans. Soon after the hurricane, they decided to make Atlanta their home.
“Atlanta is a viable option for people like us to come to,” Compass said.
While it’s impossible to say how many Katrina evacuees have settled long-term in Atlanta, Georgia absorbed the second highest number next to Texas. Most came to Atlanta.
“The community is lively and we can get a piece of the pie,” Compass said. “We want to go back, but you know there’s really nothing to go back to. We’re young and trying to build our lives and it’s hard to go back to something that’s not ready.”
Woodfin’s enterprise isn’t the only New Orleans-style business to open in Atlanta since the storm.
In March, evacuees flocked to Just Louf’n, a Stockbridge restaurant opened by an evacuee featuring New Orelans-style po’ boy sandwiches. Front Page News a local restaurant built in 1996 in the style of the big Easy, has “definitely felt a special mission,” to continue serving traditional Cajun food, said Leah Klein, the bar manager at the restaurant’s midtown site. Dozens of others have popped up around the city, offering Big Easy fare.
Metro Atlanta, where more than half the population was born outside Georgia, is ripe for a New Orleans cultural infusion, Woodfin said.
On Monday, he eagerly educated Dorfman about snowballs as he handed her a mountain of ice green as a Mardi Gras goblin.
“Do I drink it or eat it?” she asked, staring at the spoon and straw in her sour apple concoction.
She used her spoon. When the snow melted and just watery fructose goodness remained, the straw came in handy.
Dorfman wanted to know how long Woodfin would stay at the corner of Piedmont and Monroe. On Monday? Till 8 p.m. For the year? “Til it’s cold enough to wear a jacket.” He said.
And after that? Atlanta, he said, just might be home.