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Close Shave

Leon Burke puts life in ice.

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Leon Burke sells New Orleans-style shaved ice confections from his truck and at PotLuck Carry-out Restaurant at 506 N. Third St. Before summer's end, Style decided to visit to find out why he's stuck on snowballs.



Style: What's the difference between a snow cone and a snowball?

Burke: The quality of the ice, the softness of the ice is what makes a good snowball. Richmond has been hard for the snowball. This is snow-cone country. Sometimes we'll go to a special event and there will be other ice people there, maybe a snow-cone person. And people won't give the snowball a chance.

But the snow cone is three cubes of [crushed] ice in a cup with flavor poured over it. The snowball is two hands full of [shaved] snow in a cup with delicious flavors poured over it. A grape that you know is grape. Bubble gum. Pi¤a colada. You can smell the flavors — luscious, delicious flavors.

A person who has eaten a snow cone knows that they end up throwing away some of the ice. With the snowball, you eat it all and slurp up the last bit of syrup. And with our snow cream, we've also found a recipe that works for us. Seeing it with the little squiggle of whipped cream on top encourages people to try it. We experimented to get fine, strong flavors. The recipes are secret.



You've been compared to Bill Cosby for your humor and attention to children. Is that why you make snowballs for a living?

I really enjoy making them. It's like a game to me, and I like seeing the looks on customers' faces the first time they try it, to see if it's like my initial reaction. The real excitement comes when kids see our truck. Some days I come through Church Hill and I can hear people yelling and screaming and giggling, adults and kids both, having fun. And it's the same when we go to the Boys and Girls Clubs.



What does your hat say about you?

That I am the self-declared Dean of Snowballs. I have a Ph.D. in snowballogy from experience. I dare not count how many I have eaten. Thousands. We have to try the different syrups to see if they're OK before we put them on the market. Everything we sell we test on ourselves, and if we go to other snowball outlets, we have to try them. New Orleans, Baltimore, South Carolina, Georgia. My reaction is always the same: Man, I like this. — Deveron Timberlake



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