Alia Ali of Chill Shaved Ice is responsible for the delicious and all-natural icy treats the city's been enjoying at Findlay Market, Washington Park, Eden Park and even Kenwood Towne Centre. Combining her business know-how with her passion for quality ingredients, Ali introduced her gourmet syrups to more than just ice cones, as her flavorful offerings include lemonade, Italian sodas and more.
How did you start your business?
I invested some of my savings into equipment, insurance, rent and supplies, and set up shop at Findlay Market
in June 2011. My parents and in-laws also chipped in.
My handy husband made a sandwich board to display our flavors and pricing. It was (and still is) so exciting!
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I'll preface this with the fact that I love entrepreneurship and all-natural, delicious food. While in undergrad I flipped cars and was employed at the Cincinnati Business Incubator
. In grad school, I imported jewelry from Istanbul and wholesaled it at local boutiques. As for my passion of all natural, delicious food, I was raised as a vegetarian, and my mom is an amazing cook.
I came up with the idea for Chill Shaved Ice Bar on a whim. It was one of those abnormally hot Cincinnati days. I was at Fountain Square
chatting it up with my husband, thinking about what business venture I should start. I had just finished my MBA at Xavier and I had the itch to take on a new challenge.
I was really captivated by Findlay Market and had always wanted to start something there. I looked at Graeter's
and thought about how when it's hot and dry out, I crave something cool and refreshing. Not like ice cream, but shaved ice. I thought it would be cool to take an all-natural spin to a summertime favorite. I took to my kitchen and created five to six syrups using natural ingredients, and they were delicious. A month later I was open for business at Findlay Market.
What local resources did you take advantage of and how did they help?
There are so many great resources for entrepreneurs in Cincinnati. After constantly hearing about Bad Girl Ventures
, I applied in 2012 and was accepted as a finalist. It was an awesome experience that exposed me to business resources and a mentor that I would meet with weekly. I still keep in touch with him and many of the people I met through the process.
Simultaneously, I was one of Xavier's X-Lab
winners, and got the opportunity to work with three amazing MBA students who acted as consultants to my business. I strongly recommend both programs to current and future entrepreneurs.
What would you do differently if you started your business again?
Not be so cheap! For example, when I first started out, I purchased the equipment that was less expensive but not easier to work with. I have a mobile operation and am constantly breaking down and setting up. Spending an extra $80 for a dolly, or $20 for a table that is lighter and compact would have saved me time, effort and a few bruises. I would have also sought help sooner.
What’s next for you and your company?
I just purchased a smart car and converted it into a fully functioning food car, with a sink and everything. Getting on wheels was a huge step for me. So what's next?
With Chill Shaved Ice's new locations, I have expanded our menu offerings to show the diversity of the syrups. They are not only great for shaved ice, but for fresh-squeezed lemonades, limeades, hand-crafted Italian sodas and teas. I would like to bottle one of my products, either the all-natural sodas or lemonades, and distribute. Franchising is something I've also thought about.
Interview by Sean Peters