As a young girl in New Orleans in the early 80s, my grandmother would make and sell what we called “Hucka-Bucks” in New Orleans. They are also called frozen cups or ice bergs. This is a sweet syrup which is frozen in a plastic cup and enjoyed as a cool summer treat. My grandmother added fruit cocktail to the bottom of the cup for an even sweeter enjoyment. She also sold candy apples and other delicious baked treats like brownies and cake.
I watched my grandmother do this year-round for almost my entire childhood. What I didn’t know at the time is that this was one of many ways my grandma survived. She also enjoyed adult daycare. She loved helping others and sitting with elders who were no longer mobile, this was a passion for her. She never finished grade school, but constantly made a way to feed her family using her gift of cooking, baking and caring for others.
Everyone in the 3rd Ward and surrounding neighborhoods knew Ms. Williemena, and they knocked on her door from sun up to sundown especially during the hot and humid New Orleans summer months.
Helping her with the business was the most fun I’d ever had as a child. I witnessed my grandmother grow the business from just Hucka-bucks and cake to full plates of gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice with fried chicken. The food menu grew and changed all the time. Some of her top sellers were stuffed millingtons and stuffed bell peppers (you have to be from NOLA to understand).
When you sold food out of your home back then in New Orleans it was called a “Supper”. People would have “Suppers” to make money to pay their rent, take care of their children and to just simply survive. My grandmother became very very famous for her Suppers. She had the most delicious foods and it was soon time to find a more suitable place for the business. I remember she rented a small shack-like kitchen in the back of a bar. I remember going there after school and seeing the lines backed up to the end of the block. That’s how much people loved her food and desserts. She had graduated from just Hucka-Bucks in plastic cups to making Sneauxballs with a state of the art real Sneauxball machine, along with her famous cuisine. Her small restaurant wasn’t open very long due to no business knowledge and experience. I was devastated when it closed. I always said that someday I would own my own restaurant. When my grandmother died I lost my best friend in the whole world. While cleaning her home after her funeral, I found her Sneauxball machine tucked in the back of a closet. I was in complete shock, as I had not seen that machine in many years. I was in tears and could feel her presence in that moment. I knew when I found it, that she had left it there for me.
I put it in storage for a few years, not yet sure of what to do with it. After thinking about it for quite some time, I decided to start my own Sneauxball business. I moved from New Orleans to Harlem New York at 17 years old. I always say that New Orleans made me and New York raised me. Being in NYC is another type of life experience. I was exposed to so much and grew up instantly. I was able to open my first business, The Big Easy Café in 1999. With my New Orleans nurturing, my Harlem hustle and my grandmother’s Sneauxball machine, I got the doors open and kept them open for more than 3 years. If you know NYC, you know that was a major accomplishment.
Fast forward the tape to now! My husband, our 3 daughters and I own and operate New Orleans Big Easy Sneauxballs and Cuisine using my grandmothers Sneauxball machine. Our business started out rough, but we pushed through every obstacle with growing pains, lessons and faith. We went from a 10×10 purple tent, that we used for two years, to a Sneauxball truck that we purchased on my grandma’s birthday in 2020.
Our children, now own and operate their own business, and we are a staple in our community. All of this because my grandma, who didn’t get past the 6th grade, instilled entrepreneurship in me. I’m blessed to say my husband and I can now do the same for our children.