The Feature is Female: Jenna Knuffman

“I want our business to be date night, family night, daycare day, just really memories made for people.” – Jenna Knuffman

Life can hit you when you least expect it. There are many times where we as human beings can find that we’ve become so complacent with where we are, what we’re doing, and who we’ve become that we forget that just because you’ve chosen one path for your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t steer off and try something new. When you decide to step outside of your comfort zone and commit to something new with your whole heart, there’s a big chance that it could pay off. Just ask Tri State Sno Biz’s Jenna Knuffman.

Any person with children knows kids can get you to try things you don’t necessarily want to try. For Jenna Knuffman, her child gave her a taste of a life changing business decision. While on vacation in Branson, Knuffman’s oldest daughter was enjoying a snow cone that she insisted was the best she’d ever tasted. Not a typical snow cone fan herself, Jenna wasn’t expecting to like the treat she was about to indulge in, but what she experienced in that moment would forever change her life. “As soon as I tasted it I was surprised, and I knew what needed to happen. I told my husband [Joe] ‘Quincy needs this,’” recalls Knuffman.

From first taste to first sale, the entire creation of Tri State Sno Biz has been a whirlwind for Knuffman and her family. Following her vacation, Jenna came back home and began putting in the work to bring that one of a kind shaved ice back to the tri-state area. “Everything happened very quickly. I bought a trailer in July of 2021, and was ready to go.” That same year, just months after purchasing the trailer and intending to start the business, Jenna was diagnosed with breast cancer and then lost her father to a COVID-19. “It was after that that I was sitting at work and I thought I want to do something. I want to make the trailer more than just a trailer. So I started to think of all the places I could go and things I could do, and that’s where the name came from. With a name like Tri State Sno Biz, I can go to Missouri and Iowa and do all the things.” And she does! Jenna has successfully established herself within the tri-state area in just a few short years. One of the best parts of Jenna’s business is that she still prioritizes the small communities around Quincy like her very own hometown of Liberty. Towns such as Liberty get certain days through the week that Tri State Sno Biz is slated to be there to serve them, and Knuffman makes sure to maintain that schedule as best as possible.

Quincy is no stranger to the snow cone. Gengenbacher’s Shaved Ice Shack was an institution in this town for many years. In the midst of discovering all her business could be, Knuffman decided to reach out to that very institution and take a risk. “One day I decided to reach out to Rick Gengenbacher and just asked ‘Would you ever want to sell?’ and he didn’t want to sell at first. But after some contemplation he basically came to me and said ‘I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so let’s do this,’” recalls Jenna. 

Shortly after her acquisition of the shack, however, a new retailer came to town. Yes, the same retailer everyone has been talking about for months: Target. For Tri State Sno Biz, the arrival of the red bullseye wasn’t as thrilling as it could have been, because they were asked to move from their location on 3701 Broadway Street, the location that building had sat on for years. This wasn’t welcome news to a new business owner, but in the end, Knuffman and Tri State Sno Biz landed on the perfect lot with a business that just feels like family. “I don’t remember exactly how it all happened, but the owner of Gifts by Grawe reached out to me and let me know they wanted me. So I went and met with them, and yes, it’s a much smaller spot than before, but it just feels like home. It truly does. They really are wonderful people,” Jenna states fondly.

Being a new entrepreneur, Knuffman’s journey is just beginning. As for what it has looked like so far, Jenna says it’s a combination of two things: stressful situations and humbling experiences. “Any business owner is going to tell you that their journey has been stressful!” Jenna states with a laugh. “It’s been stressful, but it’s also been so incredibly humbling. The smiling faces that I see everyday makes it worth it. I love the kids’ faces when they see the cups come out that are small, but we pile the ice on top of the cup. It’s those things. It’s been a blessing to be honest.”

The rewarding part of being an entrepreneur for Knuffman lies in the fact that even as a young business, people are reaching out to her to come set up. “It’s been really cool to have various schools, churches, and local events reach out to me and ask me to come set up for them because they love our product or because of our customer service. Don’t get me wrong though, some of those events are incredibly stressful on us. Every single order we take is shaved on demand. We don’t want to pre-shave anything because then we run the risk of it becoming crunchy and gross. We want every single person’s first bite to be oh my gosh. So sometimes people are waiting 30 minutes to get a shaved ice, and I just keep telling my employees ‘Smile. It’s all we can do. Be kind and smile.’ Because all we can do now is offer them great customer service while they wait on a product that we know is going to be good, but it just takes time,” states Jenna. 

There is power in being a female entrepreneur, and for Jenna, that power is rooted in her ability and potential to be all she can be. “Honestly, it’s just cool to know that I am the one who owns and manages the business. A large portion of owning a business is mental and logistically inclined, so I love knowing that no matter if I am a man or a woman, I am reaching my full potential. Every individual is made to do their own thing, and I think I’m doing just that,” states Knuffman. 

The future can hold many things for many people. For Knuffman, she’s hoping that the future holds a little brand awareness. “I’m hoping to really get my name out there. These first few years are a lot of advertising and getting people to trust our company and try us out. It’s all about getting out there right now,” says Jenna. “I also hope we can help out Gifts by Grawe. If we can grow to where people are coming to the shack more, then I hope we can get them a little more foot traffic as well.”

Advice can come in many shapes and sizes, and when asked about what advice she’d give to future female entrepreneurs, Jenna Knuffman gave a beautifully candid response on the intricacies of running your own business. “Reach out to other businesses and business owners just so you can actually understand what you’re getting yourself into. I will say a lot of small business owners I talk to say ‘Don’t do it!’ But they don’t really mean that,” states Jenna with a laugh. “I think the good outweighs the bad. If you can stay humble and positive, it will all work out. If you can embrace the little things, and always look at the light at the end of the tunnel, then you’re setting yourself up for success. ”

One of the greatest parts of being an entrepreneur is that you never stop dreaming of where your business can go. Recently, Jenna’s been thinking of what’s next for her business, and that’s got her dreaming about a potential expansion. “I would love to be able to open another place, maybe more so downtown. I love the idea of putting one in the Quincy Children’s Museum, but I am prone to overwhelming myself, so I’m trying not to do that right now,” states Knuffman with a chuckle. 

Motivation for this sweet treat seller is all in the family. “My family motivates me. It’s really cool for me to see that my youngest daughter, Wren, wants to work for me so bad, and she has! So now I have the opportunity to teach them about customer service, quality products, and owning a business,” Jenna says fondly.

Not only does Jenna derive motivation from her family, but she’s also been able to draw inspiration for her entire menu from them. “Something that’s super unique about my business is that all of the combinations that we have listed, I got to make up with my family. We made them up in July of 2021 with my father, who unfortunately passed away one month later, so it really means a lot to me when someone orders the Paw Paw’s Faves from our menu. It just truly hits me right in the heart.” 

Many times in life, things happen when you least expect them. Perhaps you’re on a family vacation in Branson, Missouri and you try a snow cone that forever changes your life. For Jenna Knuffman, that’s the exact unexpected discovery that led her to become one of the area’s leading sweet treat sellers. 

Tri State Sno Biz’s Shack is located at 3616 Maine Street in Quincy, Illinois, and is open seasonally beginning at the end of May through August. The Shack’s hours are Wednesday through Sunday 2PM to 10PM. The last day to grab a delicious shaved ice is September 10!

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