Growing up, the best part of those hot summer days was those visits to the little green building off of state line for the best shaved ice around town. Southern Tropics, the Texarkana tradition when you need a sweet or sour treat, has grown and flourished since those days with the addition of a new building and the addition of new flavors.
Beginning in 1988, the owners Jim and Stephanie Rainey, open up about where the idea for a shaved ice place came from.
“My brother’s family had gone to Hawaii and they had talked about shaved ice and we looked into it,” said Jim Rainey, “it just snowballed.”
“We needed something to do at the time,” said Stephanie Rainey, “We started out very young, with an 8×10 little green building and now we’ve got multiple generations of people coming by.”
“It is the 28th season and 27th year,” said Stephanie Rainey.
Starting out with 24 flavors, and now including over 90 flavors and the addition of an extra window, the company has definitely developed since that little green building.
“It’s kind of a mom and pop kind of thing, we’re here all the time, we hire help but we’re pretty much here all the time working the machines and making shaved ice,” said Jim Rainey.
“I think a lot of people want to know what the secret is and why don’t we do more than one, but, it’s us. We’re a team, we’re the only ones that use the machines,” said Stephanie Rainey, “Everything is handmade, each one’s hand done. We try to keep the quality at a certain level. It’s us making sure that we can keep it at a certain level, you can’t teach that”
“You can tell them about it, you can show them how you do it and the mechanics of it, but when it comes down to it, you gotta have the right heart for it. You’ve gotta be able to put in the hours,” said Stephanie Rainey.
With the owners being at the shop anywhere from 13 to 16 hours a day, they show that having a business is a lot of hard work.
“There’s lots of hours worth of things we have to do before we even open and sometimes after we close,” said Stephanie Rainey, “It’s commitment to a business.”
“There are places who pop up and don’t last more than a year because people don’t understand, it’s a lot of hard work,” said Stephanie Rainey.
Stephanie Rainey said the secret to the success of Southern Tropics is not how they shave the ice or how good they make the flavors, but the experience.
“It’s kinda the experience of being able to survive the line,” said Stephanie Rainey.
With people coming in from different places like Africa, Germany, Guatemala, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Scotland, and generations of family paying a visit, Stephanie Rainey says they have been blessed and fortunate to go from that little bitty green building.
“We’ve got the kids that have grown up and they bring their kids,” said Jim Rainey.
Stephanie and Jim Rainey said that they would consider Southern Tropics to be a family business.
“We’ve got two kids and they’ve worked for us,” said Jim Rainey.
“Now we have two grandkids, if we’re here that long maybe the grandkids will step in and work some too,” said Stephanie Rainey.
“It is a family owned business, even though some who work for us aren’t family, most of them have turned out to be family, they are our extended family,” said Stephanie Rainey, “Even though it’s not all family working for us they might as well be.”
One of their biggest triumphs to date has been getting people to know the name of the business.
“Before it was like we’re going to the icee shop, we’re going to the little green building, the shaved ice stand,” said Jim Rainey.
“Now we hear people say Southern Tropics,” said Stephanie Rainey, “and I think we’ve actually kinda gotten here, we’ve arrived, we are a business.”
“We’ve had a customer say that it’s happy in a cup, and that’s what I try to remember on those hard days, it’s happy in a cup” said Stephanie Rainey.
“I think our customers know what 99.9 percent of the time they’re getting what they want, how they want it and it’s gonna be good, even if they veer off their normal path and try something different, they’re gonna like it,” said Stephanie Rainey.
When asked what makes Southern Tropics special, Stephanie Rainey said “I think it’s a combination of things, our interaction with the customers, we’ve known so many over the years, and we work really hard to try to keep the products right and consistent.”
“We’re here all the time, and I think our customers expect that. If there was a day we weren’t here they’d say ‘Where are they at?’,” said Jim Rainey.
“We try to keep the classic things and we also try to have new things, we’re not static.” said Stephanie Rainey.
“The main thing is we really work hard and we’re very picky about the product.” said Jim Rainey, “We make our own ice, we filter all of our water, we’re really picky about the small things.”
“A lot of people think, ‘oh that’s kind of a cute business i’m gonna start one up and let my kids run it or hire some highschool kids, and it just doesn’t work out,” said Jim Rainey, “It’s not that easy, it’s kind of a hard product to make and make it right. It seems like it shouldn’t be, like ‘oh it’s just a sno cone’ but it’s more than that if you wanna make it and make it right.”
Jim Rainey said his favorite thing about the company is the interaction with the people and the time off during the holidays.
Southern Tropics has benefited the community through donations to the Arkansas Children’s hospital, participation with the police department and pride academy, donations of sugar free shaved ice to a Diabetic kids camp.
Emergency response men and women, police, and fire department get a 50 percent discount and all men and women of service get a discount.
“These are some things that are kinda close to our heart,” said Stephanie Rainey.
Southern Tropics opened March and continues business through the end of September.
During June and July, they work from 10 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday, and 2 pm to 10pm on Sundays.
They do gift card specials and gift certificates,