Keeping Raleigh cool

Couple achieves success with Kona Ice business

by Rosie Gillam

Richie and Carina Veverka know a good investment when they see one. The former investment company employees turned entrepreneurs decided to purchase a mobile gourmet shaved ice truck three years ago. Today, the fun-loving couple are widely considered two of the most successful — and colorful — small business owners within the Kona Ice system and around town in Raleigh.

“From the moment Carina and I met, we knew we were destined to own and operate our own business,” Richie Veverka says. “Kona Ice provided us the escape from the ordinary that we had been looking for in a business investment. From operating the colorful engaging truck to raising money for the community, everything about owning this business has been a fun and rewarding experience.”

One of the few things Richie Veverka loves more than his Kona Ice truck is his wife and family. The couple crossed paths for the first time while working for a large investment firm in Boston. Carina, a transplant from Houston, immediately fell in love with the tall, outgoing project manager from Pittsburgh. The pair worked well together and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Years of dating eventually resulted in marriage, followed by the birth of their son, Dylan.

The great escape
Despite the happiness the couple found at home, both were seeking more from their professional lives. Stressed, frustrated and burned out, they began to look into business ownership as a viable option. Franchising offered the relatively low-risk, high-yield opportunity that Richie and Carina were looking for. It also offered the back-end support and training the couple needed to get off the ground quickly.

“Franchising was the next logical step for us,” Carina Veverka says. “However, there are thousands of franchises available. Choosing the right business for our family was a huge challenge.”

They spent months scouring franchise portals in search of the perfect investment. The couple considered everything from opening a restaurant to selling popcorn at local fairgrounds.

It was around this time when Carina’s aunt called with information that would change the Veverkas’ lives. A new shaved ice truck had began operating in her Houston neighborhood. She claimed she had never seen anything like it and urged Carina to look into it.

“My aunt sent me a photo of the truck, and I couldn’t believe it,” Carina Veverka says. “I ran over to Richie immediately and showed him the image. We looked at each other and instantly knew that we wanted to bring this truck to our community.”

Brightly colored, the vibrant truck had a tiki-hut top, surround-sound speakers, flashing lights and a completely self-serve, interactive flavoring experience in which customers could fill their cups of freshly shaved ice with heaping amounts of flavoring.

The couple called Tony Lamb, president and CEO of Kona Ice, that evening. Lamb asked the pair to come up to Cincinnati to meet with him and check out the truck in person. It took about an hour before the pair were seated in Lamb’s office, signing off on their first Kona Ice truck.

The giveback
One of the key reasons the Veverkas sought to open their own business is because they wanted to form a relationship with the community in which they live. They wanted to support their neighbors and help their town thrive.

“Kona Ice’s charitable business model makes fundraising easy for the organizations in town that need it most,” Richie Veverka says. “Our business is designed to give back. The more money we make for ourselves, the more money we make for neighborhood schools, sports leagues and charities.”

At nearly every stop or event, Kona Ice franchisees donate up to 20 percent of their proceeds to an organization or charity in the community. Low overhead and high demand for Kona Ice ensures the givebacks are made.

Since the couple launched Kona Ice of Raleigh in 2010, they’ve donated more than $60,000 to the community. A majority of this money has been put back into the school system, helping fund PTO programs and other educational initiatives.

One giveback program they introduced to Raleigh is called Gather and GiveBack. Similar to the popular Dine to Donate program with a local restaurant, the Veverkas head to schools or churches for an allotted period of time on any given night and serve families Kona cups at their regular prices of $3 to $5 each. After the event, they hand over a GiveBack check for a percentage of the total sales that evening.

The future
It’s been three years since Richie and Carina Veverka brought their first Kona Ice truck home. Today, the couple own four trucks and a Kona Mini, the brand’s newly developed push-cart service station. Having expanded their territory, the duo brought on 14 year-round employees, hoping to hire several more in the months ahead.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve grown tremendously over the past couple of years,” Carina Veverka says. “We’re incredibly grateful for all the success we’ve achieved, and we’re looking forward to continuing it in the years to come.”

The Raleigh community shares her enthusiasm. During the annual Wake Forest Christmas Parade, for instance, Kona Ice proved the biggest crowd pleaser of the night. The couple recalls looking on as their neighbors applauded, whistled and hollered at their Kona Ice truck for what felt like ages.

Nowadays, these moments are common. The Veverkas find it difficult to remember the last time they rolled down the street without putting a smile on someone’s face.

To learn more about Kona Ice of Raleigh, call (919) 896-4410 or email konaraleigh@gmail.com.