Raspa Fest on Saturday celebrated the extremes of a San Antonio summer. What better way to chill down on a hot day than to eat an icy concoction? And that’s just what thousands of fans did at the second annual Raspa Fest.
Jaime Morales, the Big Daddy of Big Daddy’s Eats & Treats and the sponsor of Raspa Fest 2015, said it was held at Millers Pond last year and attendance has multiplied.
“This year, it’s about five times bigger,” he said. “I expect about 6,000 people.”
Alba Almazan worked the front gate at Rosedale Park for this year’s event. She’s been a part-time Big Daddy employee for a year and a half.
“Since I’m pregnant, I can’t do the heavy stuff,” she said. “But I can work the ticket booth.”
Big Daddy started in 2012 with a 1971 recreational vehicle. A land based operation followed in 2014.
“(We) started with one truck,” Almazan said. “Now we have the truck and two locations.”
Some of the vendors have been in business a long time.
Ricos started as Liberto’s Market and Grocery in 1909. Enrico (Rico) helped his father, Rosario Liberto, sell peanuts to circus crowds paving the way for fast and fun foods to become their specialty. His son Frank introduced nachos to Arlington Stadium in the ’70s and the business grew into Ricos Products Company. The Ricos name continues to be present on many raspa products today.
Clem Martinez was running the display for Ricos Saturday afternoon – giving away popcorn and talking about raspa.
“We’re not selling raspas today,” he said. “We sell raspa syrups wholesale; you can find them at some of the vendors here today. Our products are sold retail at stores.”
Ricos knows what the community wants – and they know what we need.
“Strawberry is our best seller,” Martinez said. “Tigers Blood is a combination of raspberry and cherry. The dark red color gives it the name. It’s a little tart but San Antonians like that.”
Ricos is conscious of the health needs of San Antonio. “We also make a sugar-free line of raspa syrups, Martinez said. “We are a sponsor of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.”
Another group at Raspa Fest believes in giving back to the community as well – even though they’ve only been in business for less than a month.
Claire Zamora was a speech therapist; her husband, Rick Zamora, worked in the oil and gas business. Three weeks ago, they purchased a franchise from Kona Ice. They are proud of their state-of-the-art truck.
“It’s all brand new and very clean,” Rick said. “Our products are healthier than soft drinks so we like to bring our truck to schools and playgrounds.”
Almost every raspa vendor has a specialty.
“We have a cup that changes color with the temperature,” Rick said. “It will go from blue to purple or from yellow to green.”
“Each customer has their own favorite flavors,” Claire added. “And with Flavorwave, customers can add their own flavors at the turn of a spigot.”
“We are big on fundraising with elementary schools and churches,” Claire said. “We like to give back to the community.”
This year’s Raspa Fest poster was designed by Enrique Martinez and he ran a booth selling prints and T-shirts. You can find his artwork at R Space Art Gallery.
“I’m a huge raspa fan,” he said. “I was inspired by Big Daddy’s on Cevallos Street over by La Tuna.”
Martinez’s favorite treat is limey and slimey. “Big Daddy’s calls it the Cucumber Hill,” he said, “I call it El Slimer because the color is like the green in Ghost Busters.”
The consensus at Raspa Fest is that shaved ice is better than crushed.
Valerie Gamez, from Drakes Fun Foods in Kirby, makes their own syrup and fruit extract. “Shaved ice holds flavor better than crushed ice,” she said.
The Zamora team at Kona Ice agrees. “Hawaiian Ice is snowy and fluffy,” Claire said, “not crunchy.”
Flavors in San Antonio might seem bizarre to other parts of the country. Chamoy, made from pickled fruit, is a popular spice in Mexican cuisine and on the raspa. Chopped pickles, lucas powder, or sal-limon are other popular local raspa toppings. Basically, if a raspa is sweet or salty or sour or spiced with powdered chili, San Antonio will like it.
The Big Frosty truck had a gigantic concoction that sold for $12. Huge scoops of mango sherbet add bright colors to this icy treat. Customers can add Gummy Bears for decoration and texture.
For T-Good’s Shaved Ice, the specialty is tradition and value. Brent Wheeler said he has nine locations in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and La Vernia.
“We make our own flavors and try to keep the prices low,” Wheeler said. “At our kiosks in front of H-E-B stores, we sell an eight-ounce raspa for $1.50 up to a 20-ounce for $4.50.”
Families, such as Chris Johnson and his kids, appreciate the price and the product. His daughter Eleanor prefers bubble gum and banana flavors on her raspa but son Lian likes the pleasure – and the pain – of bubble gum and cotton candy.
“It’s cold and it hurts my tooth,” Lian said, showing his flavor-stained tongue and emerging tooth.
Chamoy City Limits is no newcomer to the land of raspa. Ana Fernandez works inside her huge black truck offering smiles and concoctions with names such as “Isle of Misfits,” “Komodo Dragon,” “Diablito,” and “Watermelon Habanero.”
“I’ve been doing this for four years,” Fernandez said. “In fact, a few years ago, Bob Rivard did a stint with us washing dishes.”
“Bob was great,” Fernandez said. “If his current job doesn’t work out, he can always come back.”
*Featured/top image: If a raspa is sweet or salty or sour or spiced with powdered chilie, San Antonio will like it. Photo by Kay Richter.