If you’ve been to Railroad Park lately, you’ve probably seen Kelli Caulfield at the Boxcar Cafė, serving up her famous New Orleans Snoballs and Louisiana dishes. If you haven’t, you’ll probably be headed that direction after reading about and seeing her tasty creations! This busy entrepreneur and law school graduate took a few minutes to tell us all about her delicious business.
I moved to Birmingham from New Orleans in 1986 when I was four years old. My main current company is NOLA ice: Original New Orleans Snoballs that started in June of 2011, but we have also been running the food service operations at Railroad Park’s Boxcar Cafė since March of 2016. My Mom invested in my first NOLA Ice unit – the NOLA Trailer. She’s my biggest supporter and inspiration. I would be nothing, and I mean NOTHING, if it were not for her. She’s my biggest motivator and my biggest inspiration. My true blessing.
I’m the sole owner but we definitely have employees that think they are owners – and that’s what I like and appreciate. NOLA Ice has allowed me to give back to the Birmingham community through the creation of jobs for many kids within the Birmingham school community. We employ a lot of kids ages 15-19 with adults as “assistant managers” of sorts that step in and manage the day to day operations. But I try to empower my kids as much as possible. Learning every aspect of the business, learning how to do everything. I want them to have that sense of ownership and pride in hopes that will correlate how they move about every day when facing those tough teenage decisions, or when it comes to the work they put in both in and outside of the classroom.
With NOLA Ice it’s all about the Snoball. Ice so soft it’s shaved twice, with our special syrups – it’s like perfection in a way. With the Boxcar we offer your regular burgers, hot dawgs, etc., but try to spice up the menu with items you don’t regularly see in a space like ours with the different types of burgers, nachos, dawgs and “sammiches.” I like to say that we do a lot in such a small space with such little equipment.
As far as unusual flavors go, with NOLA Ice, people always zero in on our Dill Pickle Flavor and Silver Fox. Quietly, both are quite popular. For The Boxcar I’d have to say our Crawfish Grilled Cheese Sammich is our most unusual offering. Folks also love our Krispy Kreme Burger. With NOLA Ice, I love our Specialty Mix section of the menu. When I first got the idea for NOLA Ice, I sent out an email to all of my friends in New Orleans (and a couple here in Birmingham) asking what their favorite flavor mixes were when they were growing up. That’s how The Specialty Mix section of the menu was formed. These friends also helped with the name, logo design, and colors. Heck, they helped me to build the NOLA Trailer also.
For The Boxcar it’s all about our daily specials. So from the BBQ Shrimp Po’boy, to the Crawfish Grilled Cheese – it provides a platform for me to experiment with my love of my home city and create what I like to call New Orleans Street Food.
Birmingham of 2017 is surely not the Birmingham of 1986 when we first arrived. This city is thriving. The city center is continuing to prosper as the years go by and Railroad Park is the front yard of our wonderful city. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to explore my love of food management and to provide a place for individuals to enjoy NOLA Ice each and every day of the year (except when it rains, of course). Our city has turned into this foodie haven of sorts. It’s been wonderful watching friends from high school and people I’ve known for some time and are still mentoring me in this industry continue to grow and flourish year after year.
The one thing I want people to know about my business is that we exist. LOL. That small company with big things with wonderful employees and we have some big dreams (I sound like Drake). We have worked hard to be a presence within the Birmingham community for a while now. Our next move is to bring my favorite food to the forefront – Peaux Boys. I started NOLA Ice mainly because of my love of snoballs and not being able to get one here in Birmingham at the time – especially a correct Snoball. Now it’s time to really show Birmingham what my team can do. Just wait for it… as we begin to branch off more into the food aspect with our New Orleans Street Food concept.
The hardest thing about being a small business owner is, well, what’s the saying – women do and men delegate? I think that as a woman we feel like we have to do it all – and I am victim of that. So you want to be the worker, and the manager, and the owner, and the product developer, and the scheduler, and the mentor/big sister of sorts….it can all be exhausting. It’s all about balance. But I’m never sure if I’m balancing it all correctly. As a law school graduate I always have the scales of justice in my mind when thinking about such things – one side my personal life and one side my professional. The goal is to not put too much on one side nor allow one side to be neglected. I don’t think there is a perfect balance. This is “adulting”. Luckily, I’m learning the art of delegation and am growing our team with some really awesome behind the scenes people. So for our next venture I’m working with an awesome business partner, talking with someone I consider to be one of the BEST chefs in the city, and plan to play more of a background/management role here. But don’t be surprised if you see me taking orders most days – because I have the tendency to not be able to stay away from the action.
The most rewarding thing about being a small business owner is passing out paychecks to my “kids”each week. Or seeing the face of a customer when they take that first bite or taste that a NOLA Ice for the first time. As we focus on the downtown area, I pray we move into investing just as much in our neighborhoods. I would love to be able to expand outside of the Downtown/Southside/Lakeview area into these other great communities but until we invest into those communities I can’t and I think this is a sentiment shared by many of friends in my industry. We need to focus on all 99 of our neighborhoods. That’s when Birmingham will really thrive.
Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!
For more info on NOLA Ice, visit: https://www.facebook.com/NOLAICEBIRMINGHAM/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf