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Jet Thomason’s Bike Is Probably Cooler Than Yours (It Makes Snow Cones)

In New York, a new business has to have a little something extra. You can’t just sell apparel; you have to sell apparel and ice cream. You can’t just open a restaurant; you have to open a restaurant that is entirely pink.

Jet Thomason was strolling around Times Square in the early aughts when the idea to open a snow cone stand popped into his head. Thomason is from Texas, where snow cone stands dot street corners like Starbucks in Seattle. “It was right around the time when we were all becoming eco-conscious and eco-friendly and all that. I thought we could do a snow cone machine without using electricity because they have the hand crank, but that’s not interesting.” Thomason had the homemade flavors—his go-to is sweet tea with fresh squeezed lemon, “an Arnold Palmer kind of deal”—but he needed something extra-extra. Then it hit him: He would affix a bicycle to an ice shaver so that he could shave ice as he pedaled. 

He let the idea incubate for a while before telling a friend who had worked in a bike shop, David Burdock, what he wanted to do. Thomason drew his brainchild out on a bar napkin, and Burdock said it was feasible. Several months later, they’d built the first iteration of their machine. Thomason was surprised by how sturdy it was. One day in 2012 he was pedaling his shaver in Long Island City when the area became a wind tunnel. The other vendors’ setups were devastated. “The umbrellas were flying,” Thomason recalls, “You could hear glass breaking. Stuff was flying everywhere. My heart was breaking for those people. And we’re just sitting there pedaling a bike and nothing was even moving.”

He was more impressed by the machine’s durability at Austin City Limits, when Shaquille O’Neal took a shaver for a spin in the Amex tent. “We were actually holding our breath,” Thomason says, “It was on TNT and everything. He was pedaling a little bit and it was real quick. We were laughing. We were just like, dude, our machine is officially Shaq-proof. Because if it hadn’t been Shaq-proof, we were like, well, if it breaks then we have a story that Shaquille O’Neal broke our machine. So there’s that. So it was a win-win.”

Now they’re on their fourth generation of machines, and they’re about to start building their fifth. This machine, Thomason says, will be more industrial and less fancy, but they’ll be able to produce it on a larger scale. He hopes this will allow him to franchise his operation. Besides Thomason, the Ice Riders team includes Burdock and Chelsea Barker—Barker met Thomason on the subway, when he complimented her shoes, and he proposed to her on the same train shortly after.

Snow cone machines on wheels might seem like the David to the corporate Goliath of eco-disruptive companies, but Thomason points out that Texas snow cone culture, for instance, is actually very wasteful. “It’s the opposite of eco-friendly,” he says, “They’re still selling snow cones in jumbo Styrofoam cups. They have electric shavers, and they tend to shy away from compostable products, like spoons. It’s just cheaper for them.”

Jet Thomason’s “something extra” could have just been… Jet Thomason. He’s written a book, he’s made a documentary about musical theater, and he traveled all over South America as a principal singer for Oceania Cruises.

He also has that Texas je ne sais quoi. When he and his co-Ice Riders started out, they dressed in cowperson attire—their mascot, Sheriff Snow, is a mustachioed cowboy peeking out of a recyclable cup. One of their first big events was an event for Amazon Water at a Dream Hotel in New York. It was a pool party, and there were models and model-adjacent guests everywhere. “We felt extremely uncomfortable,” Thomason recalls, “But at the time, we figured it was part of our charm.” After the first day, the planners politely asked them if they would ditch the cowboy getups when they returned.

Wearing non-cowboy attire is a small price to pay for someone as office-averse as Thomason is. “I’ve never sat in a cubicle. I wouldn’t even know where to start,” he says, “I’d be like, ‘How am I supposed to dress for this place?’”

Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.