David Brinson hears this phrase at least once a week: “What is it, ice with water or something?”
Born and raised in Overbrook, Brinson now lives in Savannah, Ga., with his wife and son. Around three months ago, he decided to supplement his income as a truck driver by starting his own business.
Called Philly Flava, the biz is a food cart and catering operation based around one main product: Water ice.
And it’s been relatively successful — impressive in a place where no one has any idea what water ice even is. “They know about the cheesesteaks, but not the water ice,” Brinson said. (There aren’t really any decent cheesesteaks in Savannah, he confirmed, but at least the concept is familiar.) When queried by potential customers or curious friends about what it is he’s actually selling, he’s come up with a response that seems to satisfy:
“It’s like a slushie on steroids!”
Brinson, 39, considers himself an ambassador of sorts. In addition to a dozen or so rotating flavors of Philly’s iconic treat, including the best-selling “Ninja Turtle” mix of pineapple, mango, blueberry, tropical and cherry, Philly Flava sells soft pretzels. Shipped in regularly from Philly Pretzel Factory, they’re offered plain (with mustard or cheese for dipping) or as pizza pretzels, which are an especially big crowd pleaser.
“When people taste it they’re like, ‘Oh, man, why didn’t we ever try this before?’” he said. “I tell them, yeah, in Philly, that’s a cheap man’s dinner right there.”
But water ice is the real newsmaker. “I turned lots of people onto it,” the West Philly native affirmed, noting that he’d just gotten a text from his co-coach to please bring a few cups along to high school football practice that day. He’s hosted several water ice fundraisers for the team, which includes on its roster his son, a rising senior who’s currently being recruited by several colleges. “Once people try [my water ice], they love it. I do lots of repeat business.”
Per Brinson, the other big frozen treat faves in Savannah are shaved ice snowballs — “They turn into syrupy water within a couple minutes” — and something called “thrills,” which are basically cups of Kool-Aid or punch with a popsicle stick frozen into the middle.
His water ice recipe comes direct from George’s Water Ice in Upper Darby, the same place Brinson used to frequent growing up. He lived near there as an adult for a few years after leaving the military, he said, and cultivated a relationship with the folks who ran his childhood icon. Additional recipe and operational advice came from another friend and Philly expat who runs Dolphin’s Water Ice in Atlanta.
Although Philly Flava is currently a mobile operation only, Brinson’s goal is to find a permanent storefront and be open by this December. The relatively mild winters in Savannah make water ice a viable year-round business there.
Said Brinson, “I’m just trying bring a taste of Philly down South.”