Student's shaved ice business a cool way to help pay for college

Senior business management major Hannah Torrez serves a customer shaved ice from one of her family's Kona Ice trucks.

Photos by Ralph Freso

What a relief.

As students and parents lugged belongings from the 33rd Avenue garage to their campus apartments during Welcome Week in unbearable heat – the first day of Move-In hit 117 degrees – a refreshment truck served as a revitalizing pitstop in front of Prescott Field near the Lope Shop.

Thanks to Grand Canyon University student Hannah Torrez, students took advantage of the Kona Ice truck and its plethora of flavors of shaved ice to cool down, and they'll enjoy the cold treats, too, throughout the year. Torrez has been at Canyon Challenge, and she said to look for her and her Kona Ice truck before GCU soccer games.

She operates out of a crafted truck, where customers can choose the likes of Blue Raspberry, Groovy Grape and Island Rush (blue tropical punch favor), or even adult-tailored (non-alcohol) flavors such as Bourbon Black Cherry Vanilla and Mai Tai.

Torrez, a senior business management major in GCU’s Colangelo College of Business, has extended a family business that started in California to GCU. It is helping her pay for college while allowing her to donate a part of her profits to community causes. During Welcome Week, for example, 20% of her profits went to victims of the Maui fires.

“I can figure out what I want to do after college and see if I want to expand (the business) or how I can help manage employees like I'm doing now,” Torrez said. “It helps in that category, because I've learned a lot about that through servant leadership.”

Torrez said business during Welcome Week was “very good,” adding she was incredibly happy to accommodate overheated students and parents and employ a few GCU students.

Senior business management major Hannah Torrez helps in the family business by operating one of the Kona Ice trucks.

Her next step is receiving approval to operate a smaller truck on campus on a permanent basis that would enable students to use Dining Dollars and return more money to GCU and serve those in need.

So far, operating a Kona Ice truck at GCU blended nicely for Torrez, who worked at several of her family's six trucks in Vacaville, California, before she enrolled at Merced College, 130 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Torrez transferred to GCU before the 2022 fall semester after hearing a Merced counselor sell her on GCU’s assets, as well as witnessing its pluses on a Discover visit.

“It was a Christian college, and I liked that community,” Torrez said. “And I got scholarships that made it a lot easier. I have always wanted the college experience, but not in the way that people say. I decided to go out and find the community and had the opportunity to do that here.”

Once Torrez committed to GCU, a family member who operated the six trucks suggested looking into the possibility of buying the territorial rights to sell Kona Ice, adding it would provide her with a way to help cover the cost of school and help GCU.

Torrez started to file the paperwork as soon as she arrived on campus last fall, conducting her first selling event at the Canyon Challenge in December in addition to other prepaid events, she said.

Students stop by the Kona Ice truck to grab a cool treat to beat the heat during Welcome Week.

But she did not operate out of a truck until March, and “I was stressing over the summer a lot because it takes a lot of different approvals to get it on campus,” Torrez said.

“Hopefully, I can permanently have it on campus as one of the businesses here.”

Robert Vera, Founding Director of GCU’s Canyon Ventures Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, marvels at Torrez’s ability to blend her Christian faith with her business.

“I believe that if the love of Jesus Christ is going to transform the world, it will take more than an hour on Sunday,” Vera said. “Each day Hannah is out in the community sharing her products and graciousness with her customers.

Hannah is here to serve others -- so that they experience the love of Christ through her work.

Robert Vera, Director of Canyon Ventures

“Hannah’s 'why' is different, and people can feel it. That fact that she is using her company to help fund relief efforts in Maui is not a surprise, rather it is her 'why.' Hannah is here to serve others – so that they experience the love of Christ through her work.”

Torrez’s brother and another family member currently operate a Travelin' Tom’s Coffee Truck business in downstate Illinois that has provided a snapshot for her future.

“I want to live in Montana one day, so I think that the coffee (truck) would do really well out there,” Torrez said. “I have always wanted to own a bakery, just little things like that.

“So, I think I'll always try and be involved with this a little bit so that being on campus and being an alumni would be helpful.”

Servant leadership, a staple of GCU’s community involvement, fortified Torrez’s mission in running her business. For her, running a business means more than serving shaved ice. It's also means serving others.

“I really wanted to dive into that, especially being a Christian myself,” Torrez said. “I try to apply that to Kona truck and try and implement that into my staff so that they are giving out positive experiences through the truck.”

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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