I can only answer on behalf of my customers and my experience. We have been in the biz for nearly 5 years and have used cube shavers, and Southern Snow block shavers and I am familiar with the round block shavers. The New Orleans-style shavers can make snow as crunchy and crappy, or as fine as powered snow. The machine has a tension-force rod on it to push the block of ice into the spinning blades. If you put a lot of force on it, you will cut faster and obviously get more ice crystals because the operator is shaving the ice too thick (waste of money as well). This results in a very poor product and is very similar to the sno-cone (as someone state previously). If the operator uses less force on the rod, it can make the finest snow and most flavor-absorbent snow anywhere. It does take practice, a couple hours of practice and anyone can do it. I good operator should be able to shave a full 20 oz cup, flavor it, spoon it, straw it, make the cash transaction in about 30 seconds or less. That's putting out the highest quality ice anywhere, there's no other machine that can make it better, at best, the quality would be the same. The problem is, the training and skills on the machine. It will take some practice to get the tension pressure just right, but once the force pressure is found, the operator will use muscle memory and get it right 99% of the time. You'll know if your operators are getting it right just by your regular customer base. First customers will tell you and if it's not corrected, they will go else where. We have about 85% returning customers and they are addicted to our product because of the texture of the ice and flavors. If the ice is fine like snow, the flavor is in every bite. If it's shaved incorrectly, the ice will be crunchy and we all know, the syrup will be at the bottom of the cup in less than a minute. Southern Snow has great service and their flavors are as good as anyone's. Of course, if your business isn't shaving the right texture ice, or you're not mixing the correct amount of preservatives, fruit acid (if needed) and correct amounts of sugar, any flavor syrup could taste bad.
As far as the durability of the Southern Snow machines, they are made of high grade steel with one small plastic cover over the motor. There's not much to them aside from a motor, belt, blades and cabinet. They will typically out last their owners, unless someone is in the biz for 50 years or more. They are extremely easy to work on once you make yourself familiar with the workings and when I say work on, the only thing I have ever had to do to my 4 machines is change blades, lube the pulley and keep it all clean. Obviously like any other machine, the blades will be the first things that will need attention. Sharping blades are necessary after about 10,000 cuts (depending on your ice tempering and operator use). You can send them back to Southern snow and they will sharpen them for $5.00 or you can just toss them and get new for $30. (That's what I do)
Now as for the difference between Hawaiian and New Orleans Shave Ice, the difference is...ZERO... except Shave Ice started in Hawaii, hence all others are descendants. Typically in Hawaii they serve up their ice with real fruit, beans and creams and even ice cream. In other areas, they may top it with marshmallow, condense milk, chocolate, etc. Marshmallow is unique and famous in Baltimore, where adzuki beans are for the most part, favorites in Hawaii. Typically the machines of choice in Hawaii are round block machines, Fuji, Fujimarca, Swan, etc. I personally believe that New Orleans-Style ice users use the long rectangular shavers simply because they are actually manufactured in New Orleans. Both the round and rectangle shavers can make a solid "9-10 scale" powered-snow ice. It often comes down to shipping, costs and accessibility (how fast can I get equipment and supplies). We use the Southern Snow New Orleans-style block shavers, yet we call our product Hawaiian Shave Ice.
Sorry, I sometimes get long winded. I could go on and on, but you get the gist. Out of all this, one thing is for sure, if you don't shave it from a block (round or rectangle) it's not Hawaiian or New Orleans Shave(d) Ice. Even the best cube shavers (although fast), cannot compete with the texture and quality of block shaved ice. Good luck with your decisions and your business.
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