HESPERIA — Entrepreneurs Leona Collantes and Justin O'Neill said they had to overcome many physical and mental obstacles to launch their new business.
The couple told the Daily Press they were forced to seek another career path after they experienced health issues over the last few years, eventually finding their way to operating Tikiz Shaved Ice & Ice Cream, a mobile franchise specializing in Hawaiian treats.
"The Tikiz opportunity came at the right time and we're grateful the company took a risk on us," Collantes, 26, said. "They could have denied us the opportunity to run our business, but the Tikiz CEO opened his heart and he gave us a chance."
A former long-haul driver who also worked for the dairy industry, O'Neill, 40, said he could no longer work his job after he suffered a severe back and elbow injury on the job about three years ago.
"My job involved a lot of heavy lifting, bending and twisting," O'Neill said. "The body can only take so much of that before something gives."
For Collantes, she had to end her nursing career at Knolls West Convalescent Home and a venture as a personal hospice care provider after her "body began shutting down."
"I've had systemic lupus for more than 12 years and I've gone through a lung hemorrhage," Collantes said. "I also battle with Stage 3 kidney failure, fibromyalgia and arthritis. I loved my job and I really miss caring for my patients and for the certified nursing assistants that I oversaw, but my body just couldn't handle it."
The Hesperia couple launched their cool enterprise in June, according to O'Neill, with business slowly gaining momentum mainly through "word-of-mouth."
"The biggest challenge of the business is letting people know we exist," O'Neill said. "But now we're doing schools, birthday parties, festivals, sporting event and other events like the Adelanto Grand Prix."
Collantes said her biggest "mental challenge" was the fear that came with starting a new business and the "intellectual stress" of obtaining permits, filing paperwork, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.
"One of the awesome things about running the business is the opportunity to help organizations with fundraising," Collantes said. "It's a great feeling when you can give back to your community."
The couple said part of their training involved traveling to company headquarters in Florida where they became familiar with a customized Tikiz vehicle, dubbed the "coolest Truck on Earth," which comes with a "Surv-Board" where customers can dispense their own fruit syrup creations and a Hawaiian beach-themed vehicle wrap.
O'Neill said the Tikiz truck is a "masterpiece" that can serve 400 people an hour. It also comes with surfboard signage, water misters, custom-built, stainless steel and aluminum cabinets, quality refrigeration equipment, advanced electronic gauges, a self-contained water system and speakers that play tropical steel drum music.
"Our most popular menu items are the blue raspberry shaved ice and the ice cream sandwiches," Collantes said. "Each shaved ice includes a gumball at the bottom of the cup and we also have sugar-free offerings."
Collantes said being a "culturally American-raised Hispanic Pacific Islander" fits in well with the Hawaiian-themed business.
"We're just trying to live our American dream of being an entrepreneur and a community contributor," Collantes said. "It's also a great feeling to get to the chance to operate a new business."
For more information on Tikiz, call 800-760-2767 or visit www.tikiz.com/HighDesert.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter@DP_ReneDeLaCruz.