Kevyn Lee says his grandmother inspired him to open Fluffy’s Sno-Balls in Central Long Beach.
His grandmother, Leona Taylor, owned a small sno-ball shop in New Orleans, where Lee was born and raised. He remembers growing up in the Big Easy and dining parkside on freshly cooked crawfish and sno-balls with his late grandmother, who died in 2015 at 85.
Sno-balls are a classic frozen confection that New Orleans residents have enjoyed more than 80 years. They are made from ice shaved through a cutting machine that turns out fine and fluffy, just like snow. It’s then doused in one or multiple sweet, cane sugar syrups.
Lee’s first job was in his grandmother’s sno-ball shop, working behind the counter. He was 12 years old.
“She would tell me, Never skimp on the syrups,” Lee says during a recent interview at Fluffy’s Sno-Balls.
“My inspiration for creating Fluffy’s Sno-Balls is rooted in my love of my grandmother,” Lee says. “It’s pretty much an homage to her.”
Lee brings that love to his frozen treat shop, which opened April 7 on Long Beach Boulevard near Anaheim Street. Lee has created a New Orleans vibe in his store not only with the sno-balls treats, but also the Mardi Gras colors and décor.
Lee also keeps it authentic with his tools. He ordered a special ice shaving machine from Louisiana. “Southern Snow” shaves a block of ice into the fluffiest powder.
After Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in 2005, and his home was severely damaged, Lee moved to Los Angeles with his sno-ball memories.
More than 15 years later, those memories have come to life with his own business.
Support from his fiancé
Lee, who identifies as gay, says the person who was vital in helping him make Fluffy’s Sno-Balls a reality is his fiancé, Darren Castillo.
“I had to have support from Darren. I needed him to be on board,” Lee says. “Darren trusted me. He was so supportive. I couldn’t have done it without his support.” The couple plan to marry May 26, 2022, in New Orleans.
In an interview with Q Voice News, Lee, 41, talks about selling sno-balls, struggling with his sexuality, and marrying the man of his dreams.
Here are some excerpts.
Sno-balls create family time
Sno-balls are super popular in New Orleans during the summer when temperatures exceed 100 degrees, and the air is sultry. They also provide an opportunity for family time, Lee says.
“Every time I fly into New Orleans, one of the first things I get is a sno-ball,” Lee says. “It brings me and my cousins together. It’s a ritual taking everyone’s order and then bringing them back to the house, where we just hang out. It’s refreshing. No matter what the weather is like.”
Fluffy’s Sno-Balls offers more than 50 flavors. They have sweet and fruity flavors like Georgia peach, candy apple, watermelon, and nectar, and more sophisticated ones such as white Russian, pralines, almond, cappuccino, and horchata.
A slew of toppings are also available for an extra yummy factor, including marshmallows, sour patch candies, crushed Oreos, and the fan-favorite condensed milk.
The strawberry cheesecake sno-ball is an attention grabber and New Orleans staple.
“The strawberry cheesecake sno-ball is my favorite, and it’s the most popular flavor,” Lee says.
A scoop of smooth graham cracker cheesecake is stuffed into the sno-ball, topped with Gummy Bears, and mixed with condensed milk. It creates a creamy delight that’s best experienced in their chilled copper cups.
Other popular flavors are cookies and cream and puebla, a combination of fresh cherimoya and mango.
The name Fluffy’s
Fluffy’s is a reference to Castillo and Lee’s two standard poodles, Duke Herrington and Lord Kensington, who are 1-½-year-old brothers.
“Their hair is fluffy, and the ice in a sno-ball is fluffy,” Lee says. “Our mascot was going to be a poodle, but then I decided not because people would think it’s a dog grooming shop.”
Lee graduated from Tuskegee University in 2005 with a degree in history and English. After arriving in Los Angeles, he spent 15 years in the corporate and non-profit worlds, including Boy Scouts of America and Amazon. Later, Lee moved to Utah and was a vice president for US Foods.
Lee returned to Los Angeles and eventually opened Fluffy’s Sno-Balls and became an entrepreneur
“I had written three business plans. I had always wanted to do sno-balls,” Lee says.
‘The man of my dreams’
“Darren has been uber supportive with me in creating Fluffy’s Sno-Balls.” Lee says. “I feel like I’m marrying the man of my dreams.”
During their two-year relationship, Castillo and Lee have tackled every step together, from late night business planning to working together in the shop on weekends. Lee says bringing this company into their relationship, in the midst of wedding planning, felt natural.
Lee manages the place six days a week while Castillo pursues a doctorate in epidemiology.
“Darren intends to be the Black Dr. Fauci,” Lee says.
Struggling with being gay
“My greatest struggles were in high school and college. You learn to conceal it,” says Lee, who was bombarded with homophobia during those years. “It’s what I heard in church. It’s what I heard in school.”
During his first year at Tuskegee University, Lee said that during the convocation at the beginning of the fall semester, a senior university official made troubling comments to the assembled students.
“During the convocation, he said, Tuskegee University does not condom homosexuality. If you want to be a homosexual, go to an to another university.”
Leaving New Orleans
“I came to California with nothing but the clothes on my back,” Lee says. “I didn’t have a friend. I didn’t have a home. I didn’t have money. I was an emotional wreck. I went to the Red Cross and got some money and started my life.
“I took that money and bought a suit for a job interview. I found a place to stay,” he says. “I heard L.A. was the land of dreams. I didn’t want to be a poor Black boy in New Orleans.”
Living his truth
When I moved to California, I didn’t have family here. I didn’t have to worry about being ridiculed. Nobody knew me,” Lee says. “If they did make fun of me, I didn’t care because I didn’t know them. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life. I was able to live my truth.
“I felt free in one way, but still had to mask myself because I was afraid I would be fired at work if they found out I was gay.” Lee says.
Coming out to his family
When Lee came out to his family, they embraced him.
“After coming out to mom, things were fine,” Lee says. “I was tormenting myself. Nobody in my family had said they would disown me for being gay.
“While growing up, you think you’re in an invisible closet. You think nobody knows you’re gay. But it’s not an invisible closet,” Lee says. “Sometimes you make it a bigger issue than what’s actually there.
“I wish I had come to terms with sexuality a lot earlier,” Lee says. “I’m a proud, successful gay man.”
Caitlin Hernández contributed to this report.