Skylite Snowballs brings Baltimore treat to East Bay
on August 24, 2011
On Baltimore street corners on hot summer nights, all kinds of people are eating snowballs—kids, people dressed in business suits, moms, teenagers. That’s how Katie Baum remembers it. “For me, it’s what you do in the summer,” Baum said. “It’s what you crave.”
The snowball is a sweet frozen ice treat that has a consistency like snow. The shaved ice is served in a cup with syrup poured over it and is eaten with a spoon. Now Baum, who grew up in Baltimore, has brought the snowball across the country and given it a very East Bay spin with her company, Skylite Snowballs. While snowballs in Baltimore are usually artificially flavored, Skylite’s are made from natural ingredients, usually just fruit and sugar. “We’re kind of experimenting and pushing the envelope a little,” Baum said. “I have tons of ideas, but [fruits] have to be the right consistency to pour over ice.”
The Skylite flavors include typical choices found in Baltimore like lime, cherry and strawberry, but also feature non-traditional flavors like cucumber, Moroccan mint tea and hibiscus. The snowballs are served from a light blue ice cream truck of mid-70’s vintage, and Baum named the company after a traditionally light blue Baltimore flavor she doesn’t serve. “I don’t have a ‘Skylite’ flavor because I don’t know how to create a ‘blue’ flavor naturally,” she said.
Baum came up with the idea for Skylite Snowballs after seeing a wide variety of food trucks while attending the Eat Real Festival at Jack London Square in 2009 with her cousin from Baltimore. “I was craving something cold. They had popsicles and they had ice cream,” she said, “but nothing like a snowball.”
Baum doesn’t come from a food background—she also works as a fine art photographer—but thought that starting a snowball truck was something that wouldn’t require restaurant experience because she wouldn’t need to prepare cooked food or hire a chef. She got in touch with Stacey Pierce, a pastry chef at Chez Paniesse restaurant in Berkeley, who created the first ten flavors for Skylite.
After Baum found a truck she liked in Los Angeles and figured out how the food truck permitting process worked for the East Bay cities where she wanted to serve the snowballs, she launched Skylite in September, 2010.
“I knew it was something I loved, and my family members back east actually thought it was a good idea, which I was surprised about,” Baum said. “People were supportive, which was encouraging.”
Baum uses Facebook to announce where the Skylite truck will appear, and it can be found on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland on some hot summer afternoons. Most summer weekends, the truck is parked in front of Starr Grocery on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, and at Oakland’s Art Murmur on the first Friday of every month. Baum said she’d like to find other locations in Oakland, like in the Temescal and Uptown neighborhoods, to serve snowballs. Skylite Snowballs also does private events.
Wherever the truck is parked, Baum said she hopes the Baltimore summer scene will be replicated, with all sorts of people munching on a cold snowball in a cup. But she hopes to keep a decidedly East Bay feel. “I’m happy with our snowballs out here, and the quality of them,” she said. “I think we did a good spin on the Baltimore snowball.”
Click here for more information on Skylite Snowballs. Lead photo: The Skylite Snowball truck. Photo by Aya Brackett.
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