How One Veteran’s Military Values Led to Kona Ice

Chris Kimball and Suzanne Stafford

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be cruising through the streets of Mississippi with Calypso music blasting from my tropical themed truck, I would’ve laughed. Looking back on where my career started, I never thought I could find common ground between the U.S. Army and a shaved ice truck.

I served in the Army as a weapons mechanic for five years – from 1992 to 1997. From there, I moved into the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry, on both the corporate and commercial side. Recently, I made my most drastic career change yet and started to look into franchising opportunities. There was only one franchise that I felt completely encapsulated my values as well as what I wanted out of entrepreneurship – a business that would serve the community and emphasize philanthropic efforts. Today, my wife and I own a Kona Ice shaved ice truck in Gulfport, Mississippi.

My journey to choosing Kona Ice started with logistics. When looking into potential franchise opportunities, it was imperative that I found a franchise with an easy protocol to follow, as my military experience instilled in me a strong sense of order and structure. It’s no surprise that I found such a great fit with Kona Ice; simply put, Kona Ice is a solid business model. The company already had built-in brand awareness, which made it easier to break into the market, and even if the community wasn’t aware of Kona Ice before, it’s difficult for a tropical themed truck blasting Calypso music to go unnoticed. Beyond the order and structure of the onboarding process of Kona Ice, franchisees have flexibility with their business once it is up and running. For example, Kona Ice gives me the opportunity to choose my own hours and be my own boss, allowing me to have more time to spend with my family.

Beyond a strong business model, I desired a concept that made me feel like I was making a difference in my neighborhood, as I had been taught during my five years in the Army that the core value of being in the military is having a greater sense of purpose; everything we did was for the greater good of our country. Moreover, the pillar of the U.S. Army is built upon the “Army Core Values” that we learn in basic training – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. To me, investing in Kona Ice seemed to be a reflection of these values; it took personal courage to forgo my previous work experience and open a Kona Ice truck, but I felt it was my duty to the neighborhood to invest in a selfless service like Kona that would allow me to make an honest living while giving back to my community.

In a sense, I’ve felt I have gotten to instill these same values in children in my city through Kona Ice’s partnership with schools. By rewarding well-behaved and high performing children with Kona Kups, we are teaching kids that hard work pays off and sharing the importance of philanthropic services. Through Kona Ice, I believe I am shaping a more positive, kind and hardworking community.

In a way, I feel like I am still serving, but instead of serving my country, I am now serving my community, bringing joy to the neighborhood with my colorful truck and an option for the city of Gulfport to utilize my business for fundraisers. Kona Ice encourages me to feel good about my successes and promote my business; the more sizable of a profit that our truck earns, the more we can give directly back to the community.

Serving in the Army and owning a shaved ice truck do not seem to be related professions, but I believe it was the values instilled in me during my time in the military that drew me to open a Kona Ice truck over 20 years later. The Army taught me what it means to have a sense of purpose, and since then, I have followed the ideal that everything I do should be for the greater good. This led me to a philanthropic business model like Kona Ice. Nationally, Kona Ice has donated over $70 million since its inception in 2007, and I look forward to seeing what philanthropic milestones Kona Ice will overcome this year on a national scale as well as the thousands of individual communities the company serves.

Article written by Chris Kimball, U.S. Army Veteran and Kona Ice Franchisee

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