Featured photo: Kelli Freitas and Rikki Cruz started Whims last year after being inspired by shaved ice businesses of the Deep South. (courtesy photo)
The first time Kelli Freitas and Rikki Cruz turned on their shaved-ice machine, a chunk of ice almost took one of Freitas’ teeth out.
“I think we had an existential crisis the first time we turned it on,” Freitas says, laughing. “We didn’t realize it was so complicated.”
The machine, a pricey Japanese contraption, was actually a lot harder to manipulate than either expected when they first started Whims, their shaved-ice business.
“It’s very nuanced,” Freitas says. “There’s so many technical settings; it’s very manual.”
“It has to be on the right way, spun with the blade at the right angle,” Cruz adds.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” Freitas says.
The idea started out simply enough.
Freitas, who grew up in Texas, spent summers of her childhood in Wal-Mart parking lots indulging in shaved ice. And no, not the kind at the local gas station that comes in the form of an Icee or a snow cone.
“Our shaved ice is so soft,” Freitas says. “It’s snow-like.”
In fact, the crystals shaved from the ice are so small that the texture comes out closer to ice cream than a slushie. And that results from the way the ice gets manipulated.
“You have to make your own block ice,” Freitas explains. “You have to get your own, you can’t just buy a bunch of ice cubes.”
That’s something the two had to learn through trial and error.
“We had bought the machine, but we had never made shaved ice before,” Freitas says. “And we had decided this was going to be our product.”
Freitas’ love for shaved ice comes through in her enthusiastic descriptions of their business. Cruz, who admits she’s an Enneagram 2, got caught up in Freitas’ passion, too, and Whims was born… well, kind of on a whim.
Originally, the two friends, who have known each other for more than a decade, wanted to start a coffee business. But in the last year, they noticed a bunch of new coffee shops opening in Greensboro. So they pivoted.
“I had pitched this idea [of shaved ice] to a lot of people to see if they would let me do a business with them,” Freitas says. “This dream would have lived in my head until I died if Rikki hadn’t come around; I loved thinking about and dreaming about it.”
At the time, the two had full-time jobs — one working in corporate America and the other as a social worker — but the idea of a whimsical shaved-ice business loomed large in their minds.
They bought an old milk truck off of Facebook Marketplace for $2,000 with some of their COVID-19 stimulus money and started to upfit it for their new business.
So what if they didn’t know anything about making the product?
“We needed something fun and joyful,” Freitas says. “It’s an approachable product, and we love the nostalgia piece of it.”
After figuring out the mechanics of the machine, they moved on to flavor development.
Freitas, who loves reading cookbooks for fun, began looking for inspiration from cocktails and other recipes.
“That’s been the story of all of this,” she says. “Just saying, ‘Yes,’ and figuring it out piece by piece. So if we can do it, you can too!”
Some of the truck’s most popular flavors include creamy lemonade, coconut mint lime (Freitas’ favorite), sweet cream (Cruz’s favorite) and cold brew with cream. They also offer what they call “classic” flavors that draw from the traditional shaved ice found in Texas like blue raspberry, bubblegum and sour grape. Of course, it wouldn’t be as fun without toppings. Options include sweetened condensed milk — a favorite in Texas— sprinkles, gummy bears and chocolate sauce.
In the fall, they’ll offer flavors like chai tea latte, frozen hot chocolate and spiced apple cider with the option of a housemade pumpkin-spice drizzle.
Being mothers to little kids, the fun flavors offer a kind of simple enjoyment, the two say. But the clientele isn’t just children.
A few weeks ago, Freitas says she remembers serving an older gentleman who ordered the sweet cream flavor after a bit of skepticism. After taking his first bite, tears welled in his eyes.
“He said, ‘This was my grandpa’s sweet cream,’” Freitas recalls. “It immediately took him back to being with his grandpa.”
Since unveiling their truck to the world last June, the duo says interest in Whims has grown. They currently do pop-ups at local parks and businesses. Being a mobile entity has helped the duo feel like they’re more involved in the community, they say.
When Cruz’s home suffered a house fire last year, dozens of Whims’ supporters began dropping off supplies for her family.
“We never would have known them without Whims,” Cruz says.
“It’s connected me way more to Greensboro than I ever have before,” Freitas adds.
Whims recently expanded their menu and rolled out “whimsicles,” which are exactly what they sound like — housemade popsicles. To accommodate, they are currently raising funds via Indiegogo to purchase a flash freezer and push cart. In the future, they hope to build a walk-up shack. But mostly, they’re taking their business one block of ice at a time.
“I am living my dream,” Freitas says. “And it’s in the form of a shaved-ice truck.”
Learn more about Whims by following on Instagram at @whims.gso.
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