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Plum Street's Donna Black on Being a 'Snoball Barmaid'

[Todd Voltz]

Back in 1979, Donna Black's husband Claude insisted that the couple buy Plum Street Snoballs, which had by then been shoveling syrup-drizzled snow into the Carrollton neighborhood since 1945. Though Claude had been a Plum Street devotee since childhood, Donna had grown up in Metairie and didn't really know what made Plum Street special. In other words, she was going in cold, preparing to become a snoball stand proprietor with little insight into the delicate art of syrup mixology, or the summer afternoon crush of sweaty customers clamoring for something to cool their overheated palates. Now, more than thirty years later, Donna Black owns and operates a snoball stand beloved by pretty much everyone (including Breesus). She's quite confident to call herself a snoball "barmaid," as she knows each customer, with the intuition of a dedicated drink-pourer, by his or her favorite flavor.

In the summer, do you just have a constant stream of customers?

All we have to do is open the door. My daughter told me at one point, "If you build it, they will come."

Would you say that the Burdette location is more of a neighborhood place or a city-wide draw?

There are other snoball stands all over the place, but the stand has been around since 1945. It's got it's own reputation. Then I took it over in 1979, and have been there ever since.

How did you originally take over at Plum Street and get into the snoball business?

My husband used to go to Plum Street when he was a little boy. I lived in Metairie, so he was the one who said, "Oh, Donna
?this is the place to buy." I'd never heard of it, but once we bought it, we were busy immediately.

Had you had experience before at maybe an ice cream shop or something? Did you know what you were getting into?

No, never. It was scary. We opened it up, and we immediately had a line to the corner. We had no idea how we were going to do it. We bought the recipes, and that was it?we were totally on our own.

What was the hardest part about those early goings?

Making the ice and flavors was pretty tough. Getting the ice ready was tough, too, because, at the time, we made our own ice?we had a machine that made the blocks that fit directly into the machine. Not only were we doing all that, but we were learning how to make our own syrups and harvesting ice twice, sometimes three times a day. At first, we just couldn't keep up with the demand.

[Todd Voltz]

About how much ice do you guys go through in a week or a day?

Maybe two or three hundred pounds per day. Could be a little more or less.

What are some of your most popular flavors? What are some your personal favorites

My personal favorite?good, old strawberry. My strawberry is the best in the world. The orchid cream vanilla is our signature flavor. Coffee, too?we serve a lot of coffee because kids like the caffeine in the coffee. I would never give my kids caffeine, but, you know, it's summertime, so what the heck? We make our own extract from scratch for most of our flavors. It's kind of like we're mad scientists back there creating all these new flavors.

How do you go about creating new flavors?

Well, we've made strawberry shortcake, strawberry cheesecake, lemon meringue, cookie dough, bananas foster?things like that. Nobody else had those flavors, except for the pies and bakeries. We'd just come up with ideas about what would taste good and see what the flavors tasted like. We put the formula together ourselves, and it worked out well.

I'm the snoball barmaid [laughs]. People pull up and I immediately know their car, know what flavor they're looking for. They don't even have to open their mouth. I just have to hope they don't decide to change on me that particular day.

Have you noticed snoballs becoming a big hit with out-of-towners visiting the city?

Oh, sure. And what a compliment, to have people come from out of state and stop in as one of their things they have to do before they leave New Orleans.

Ever get snoball fatigue? Can you still enjoy a snoball after a whole day spent behind the counter?

I'm not a big sweet eater, which I think is good because I would be huge?I'd eat them all the time. My husband and my children and my grandchildren, though, they all expect me to have snoballs in my back pocket when I walk through the door.

Do you anticipate this being a family business for years to come?

Oh yeah, definitely. If something happens to me, my children and my grandchildren will take over. All of my girls have run the stand?they come in to do Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest. They love it.

· Plum Street Snoball [Official Site]
· All Snoball Week Coverage [-ENOLA-]