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Shaved Ice And Syrup - Cool Biz Model That Employs Youth

Pelican's Snoball
Leoneda Inge

Economists and politicians say it’s becoming easier for most adults to get a job these days. But if you are a “young” adult, your story may be different.

Years into the economic recovery, there are still a lot of unemployed and underemployed people, which is slowing the recovery for young adults.

And in North Carolina, the jobless rate for that group is especially high. 

In Durham, NC, there's a "cool" small business that caters to young workers.  My family stops by on special occasions – usually when it’s hotter than 85-degrees outside.  It’s called Pelican’s SnoBalls.  Deborah Jackson and her family are regulars.

"My flavor is banana," said Jackson.

I reminded her Pelican's has more than 100 flavors. 

"I know, but banana is, just has that special taste, yeah!” said Jackson.

Pelican’s SnoBalls – New Orleans Style Shaved Ice – is relatively new to Durham.  The first bright pink and baby blue Pelican’s opened on North Roxboro Road in 2011.  It did so well, Owner Miles Abbason opened a second snowballs stand last year, on Fayetteville Street.

“We originally moved out here thinking to open a self-serve yogurt shop.  As we started doing research, the investment is well over a couple of hundred grand, that’s a lot of money!" said Abbason.

So, Abbason and his wife had to re-group and look for something with lower start-up costs.  They had moved to North Carolina from California for a new start and a new business.  After meeting the owner of the original Pelican’s Snoballs in Garner, Abbason says he was sold.

“Looks like there’s a lot of flexibility in the schedule.  You’re doing something fun.  People aren’t usually in a bad mood when they come for snowballs," said Abbason.

And on an average day, Pelican’s sells 400 snowballs at each stand.

Justin Michael
Credit Leoneda Inge
Pelican's Snoball manager, Justin Michael, serves up shaved ice and syrup at Fayetteville Street stand in Durham, NC.

In many ways, Abbason has accomplished a great feat during this slow economic recovery.  He’s opened a new business in the past five years, expanded that business and he pays his employees more than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They start out at $7.50, and in a month if they work out…

“Then we’ll bump them up to $8 an hour and our shift leaders, our crew leaders is an additional, I think it goes up to $9.50, $10 an hour," said Abbason.  "I kind of lose track.”

The Pelican’s Snoballs workers in Durham are between 16 and 25 years old.  This particular age group has suffered a lot since the recession that began in late 2007.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says in 2013, the unemployment rate for young people between 20 and 24 in North Carolina, was a whopping 16.5-percent.  That’s the second highest in the country.

James Wilkerson is 20-years-old and has worked for Pelican’s for two years.  Wilkerson said he spent a lot of time looking for other jobs, but the search has been real hard.

"Pretty hard, especially since the jobs I was going for they were looking for people that they were more experienced," said Wilkerson.

And Wilkerson says he applied everywhere, from trying to be a tester at GlaxoSmithKline to a stock worker at Walmart.

Justin Michael is 21-years-old and manages the Fayetteville Street Pelican’s stand. He started off selling shaved ice for the franchise at its original site in Garner.

Michael says many of his co-workers have stayed put, holding on to their job, since jobs are still hard to find.

“A lot of times you’ll hear their friends coming up here all the time.  Ya’ll hiring, ya’ll hiring.  We probably hear that 10 to 15 times a day," said Michael. "And I just hate that I have to say the same thing every time, no I’m sorry, no I’m sorry.  Just ‘cause we’re not.”

Michael tried two semesters of community college, but chose to come back to Pelican’s.  His plan is to own his own franchise – before he’s 25.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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