Things got just a little bit cooler in Statesboro, beginning in May 2021.
Since that time, BigDog SnowCones has been serving up delicious cool treats all over the Boro and beyond. Owned by Julie and Ivey Miller, BigDog is named for the couple’s Great Danes, George and Oscar. George is the senior pup, now 5 years old and weighing 185 pounds. Oscar is the baby, just 2 years old — but he weighs in at 214 pounds.
Julie Miller says that she and her husband were doing home improvement when he began experiencing numbness in his hands and feet. He was later diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and was using a Hover Round by the age of 38.
Given that he could no longer hold or use a screw driver, since he no longer had fine motor skills, the couple determined that it was time for them to find a new way to earn a living. Julie’s parents own Shady Oaks Raceway, a go kart track, where her husband and his friends raced.
“That’s kind of an expensive little hobby,” she said. “So I said we’re going to have to do something to supplement this habit that y’all have got.”
Julie purchased an Amazon snow cone machine, along with 4 gallons of syrup, and she made $100 the first time she sold snow cones at the track.
“My brain went to working, and it has eventually evolved into what we are today,” she said.
The early days
When BigDog was just starting out, the Millers parked their rig at the local Tractor Supply to get the community acquainted with them and with their product. Word spread quickly and soon everyone knew about the massive variety of products offered—and the massive dogs that were on site.
The couple took George everywhere with them when they were still doing home improvements, so bringing him along for the snow cone business was only natural. Naming the business after the dogs started as a joke, but she soon saw the marketability of the brand.
Julie says having the dogs along is a draw for customers. George does fine with smaller crowds, but once there are a lot of people buzzing around, he’s ready to retire to the truck for a break.
“He’s kind of moved into that old man stage,” Julie said, laughing.
Oscar, however, loves the crowds.
“Oscar has been with us since Day 1 and he’s used to it. He tolerates kids and adults well and loves it. They are our family,” she said of the dogs. “They’re our four-legged children. They are a draw for the business, but they are also our best friends.”
George is her dog, and is attached to her, while Oscar never leaves her husband’s side.
“He can’t go to the bathroom without Oscar following him,” she said, with a chuckle.
The crowd response to the dogs is always the same, Julie said. People either walk away wanting a Great Dane, they get scared of them, or they’re just amazed at the gentle giants.
Julie says originally, she thought that she would work the business, and her husband could sit on the porch of the food truck, with the dogs, and interact with customers. But he soon became bored with that, and moved inside.
“My husband got bored, and got to feeling better, and could move around a little more. The treatments were working, and he decided to start cooking some things,” Julie said.
He has since developed some food items to add to their list of offerings. He started with deep fried Oreos and deep fried honeybuns, which proved to be a big hit. Then he added chicken fingers, fried shrimp, French fries, corn dogs, hot dogs, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and funnel cakes. They have recently added deep fried cheesecake.
The couple works mostly on their own, with the occasional help of their sons, Aiden and Ryder, who are 16 and 12. They’ve also hired a couple of young ladies to help, Lauren and Riley.
No chill — at first
Julie says when they first started, the road was not so smooth. Their food truck’s air conditioning unit petered out on them, leaving them with an on-again-off-again sort of cooling system. After a couple of tries to replace the system, they finally landed on the right one. But that was after they endured about two months with spotty A/C. You might think, “Well, they sell shaved ice. It’s cool working with that, right?”
You’d be wrong.
“It was miserable,” Julie said.
But things are rocking along now, and the food truck is as cool these days as the products that are sold from it.
BigDog SnowCones started with about 90 flavors of shaved ice, and is now serving 125. They offer four different sizes: small snowball, large snowball, a medium served in a color change souvenir cup branded with the BigDog logo, and an extra-large that is served in a plastic souvenir dog bowl. Prices go from $5 to $10.
BigDog offers the typical flavors like blueberry, strawberry and raspberry. But they also offer up some unusual flavors. Julie says their menu goes from A to Z: Apricot to Zephyr. They offer some sugar free flavors that rotate, along with some unusual flavors like buttered popcorn, jalapeno stinger, orchid vanilla magic, egg custard, king cake, mandarin, pina colada, guava, passion fruit, strawberry shortcake and red velvet cake…just to name a few.
Some of the flavors come from the manufacturer, but some are Julie’s own concoctions, results of her playing with flavors. She says that blue raspberry is their best seller, but you can get that anywhere. If a customer orders that flavor, she tries to get them to try other flavors before going with what they already know and love.
“When I do that, people usually find something else that they like,” she says, smiling.
Rainbow is also one of their biggest sellers, and it includes ice cream, red cotton candy and blue bubble gum. In addition, you can get add-ons like sweet cream and sour spray, with any of their flavors.
When people come up to the truck, are struck by the huge list of offerings, and can’t make up their minds, Julie takes it as a personal challenge. She enjoys making suggestions for people, asking if they want something fruity, dessert or something refreshing. They are always happy to give out samples, and Julie says she just watches for that moment — that moment the customer smiles and she knows that “we have a winner.”
She’s pretty sure they aren’t going to add any more flavors…they’re pretty happy with the lineup as it is. But she says she would like to add some clear items for those who have dye allergies.
Now the BigDog is too cool
Julie says that in the beginning, she hunted for festivals and events where they could sell their products. It takes a lot of paperwork before a food truck can set up and sell; you can’t just roll up and start selling, she says. Being at Tractor Supply helped to establish them locally, and people sampled their wares and then booked them for parties and daycares and other events.
Festivals have become the BigDog’s bread and butter, and they now have people contacting them, rather than the other way around These days, Julie says they can be a bit more selective as to where they go. They prefer to stay as close to home as possible, because by the time they travel somewhere, pay the assorted fees, and pay for gas and lodging, it kind of eats their profits.
Working the BigDog food truck is the Millers’ full-time job, and they laugh if you ask if they do anything else. The couple doesn’t have time for anything else these days. The Millers travel with their truck from March through most of December, working about four to six days a week, but the work doesn’t stop when they aren’t traveling. They still do about four to six events in January and February, but they reserve time for catching up on things at home, doing taxes, and preparing for the next season.
The people behind BigDog SnowCones say that for them, it’s all about the people they serve.
“My husband and I, neither one of us meets a stranger,” Julie said. “The best part of it is meeting the people and making everybody smile. It fills our hearts that we’re doing a good job, when people say, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ Rather than just slinging out a blue raspberry snow cone, we can watch somebody’s face when they bite into a mojito snow cone, or one of these flavors that nobody else has, and seeing them smile, it just tickles me. I enjoy it.”
Another thing the couple enjoys is being able to give back to the community that has welcomed and embraced their business. They are often contacted and asked to appear at fundraising events, and when they can, they give back a percentage of their profits to the cause being supported. They have supported the Children’s Miracle Network, and worked to help local child abuse and battered women’s charities.
“I feel like it’s important to give some of what we get back to the community, and for a good cause,” Julie said.
The couple tries to book at least a handful of charity events each year. They also partner with groups at Georgia Southern to aid student organizations like fraternities and sororities.
The future looks way cool
When asked what the future holds for them and their business, Julie smiles and says she’s giving it some serious thought. She won’t give away the details just yet, but she will say that they are considering a more permanent location. They’ve also considered adding a second truck.
But they don’t want to throw just anyone on there, selling their products.
“We want them to have that personality like my husband and I do,” she said. “We joke with the customer, we interact with the customer, not just, ‘OK your snow cone is $5; have a nice day.’ We talk to our customers, we interact with them.”
Julie says she has some ideas for a permanent location, and other “tricks up her sleeve,” and she’s found a couple of locations to consider, but she say she wants to hold off and make sure it’s “just right.”
“It has to be a go-go-go, not a no-no-no,” she said.
In the meantime, she says she wants to thank the people of Statesboro for welcoming the BigDog and all they have to offer. She and Ivey have loved every minute of meeting people and catching up with friends.
“We thank everyone for making our business such a success,” she said. “Without them, there would be no business. We want to keep it a success and keep Statesboro cool for many years to come.”
Find BigDog on Facebook. The Millers regularly post where they’ll be located next so you can find them, Oscar and George, and all 125 outstanding flavors. Call 912-604-5377 or message them for details or booking information.