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Continuing to treat Fort Dodge

Snack Shack will open under leadership of Juli, Shea Springer; Patriarch Steve Springer passed away in 2020

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Shea Springer, left, and his mother, Juli Springer, both of Fort Dodge, are all smiles inside the Snack Shack recently. The mother-son duo are continuing the business started by Steve Springer in April of 2017. Steve Springer passed away in May 2020 after a battle with esophageal cancer.

The day after Steve Springer, of Fort Dodge, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March 2020, he shared a brief conversation with his son, Shea Springer, about Snack Shack Treats N Eats.

“He told me we need to get the Snack Shack open,” Shea Springer recalled as the two sat and watched TV together at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. “I said, ‘I’ve got no problem selling ice cream cones.'”

His father just looked over at him and smiled.

“He knew we were behind him 100 percent,” Shea Springer said.

Eventually, Shea Springer would take on a much larger role at the ice cream shop. Much sooner than he anticipated.

Steve Springer founded the Snack Shack, 1601 Central Ave., in April of 2017.

Many people came to know him through his volunteer work behind the concession stand at Dodger athletic events. And that love of serving others and seeing the smiles of people enjoying a snack eventually motivated him to open the ice cream shop.

“It kind of all started when he did the concession stand to help the Dodgers,” said Juli Springer, the widow of Steve Springer. “Everyone knew him as the concessions guy and he didn’t get paid a cent.”

It was clear that Steve Springer was passionate about serving others.

“He always had new ideas,” Shea Springer said. “He brought in the warm, fresh-baked cookies and the Dodger dogs. He liked food service and coming up with ideas.”

Juli Springer was a little surprised the night Steve Springer came home to tell her he was going to open an ice cream shop.

“He was really good friends with Joe Harvey, who owned this building,” Juli Springer recalled. “He walked in here one night and said, ‘let’s do this.'”

With local recipes and suppliers for the food and a wide variety of ice cream flavors, it didn’t take long for the Shack to gain popularity in Fort Dodge.

“It was one of the things he talked about,” Juli Springer said. “He loved Won-Ton Inn (former Fort Dodge restaurant) back in the day and he used that same recipe for his wontons. Steve loved local recipes and buying local ingredients.”

The Shack Burgers (loose meat sandwich) and Shack Dogs (conies) are other items on the Snack Shack menu inspired by past Fort Dodge restaurants.

“There’s a lot of deep-rooted local recipes,” Shea Springer said. “The business took off. He was good at it.”

Between his work as vice president of mortgage loans at Availa Bank, the Snack Shack and cooking for family and friends, Steve Springer didn’t leave a lot of down time for himself.

Looking back, both Shea and Juli Springer, wonder how he got it all done.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Juli Springer said. “He bought this and did so much himself. He spent so many hours here. He didn’t expect us to know that much.”

After he became ill, Steve Springer started teaching Shea Springer many of the skills it requires to operate the business.

Steve Springer would sit on a stool inside the Shack and talk Shea Springer through the various processes.

With the help of a strong staff, the Shack opened successfully in the spring of 2020. Although many would say it wasn’t quite the same without Steve Springer’s presence as he continued to battle the disease.

Steve Springer would still venture in to do what work he could.

But as the weeks went by, his health continued to decline.

“As things progressed, I wanted to learn more and more because he couldn’t do certain things and was becoming aware that things were getting worse,” Shea Springer said.

Shea Springer could tell his father appreciated his willingness to learn.

“Even when he was super sick, he enjoyed teaching me things and he was glad I was taking an interest,” Shea Springer said. “He was excited I wanted to be part of it.”

“He did teach Shea different stuff than he knew I already did,” Juli Springer said. “He taught Shea more physical stuff.”

Even through his illness, Steve Springer had a difficult time not wanting to be at the Shack helping.

“I had to start hiding the keys,” Juli Springer said.

In May, the community rallied around the Springer family.

Customers purchased #SpringerStrong bracelets.

And on May 17, Steve Springer’s 1979 St. Edmond Catholic School classmates organized a parade of cars to drive by his home on North 19th Street to show their support. Hundreds of family, friends and co-workers cruised by with signs and honks of encouragement.

Days later, Steve Springer passed away with family by his side on May 31, 2020.

And although he’s no longer with them, his values live on with his family.

“He taught us to give back,” Shea Springer said. “He was always concerned about others. Giving back to the community. He did that in everything he did.”

Juli Springer recalled nights that Steve Springer would drive around the city after the Shack closed and looked for people who needed help.

“He would drive out after it closed and give people cash,” she said. “He was an anonymous and generous giver.”

Shea Springer added, “Some people needed help and he had no problem helping people. He knew that anyone can find themselves at any part of life. You could be down bad and hurting and didn’t do anything to get yourself there.”

After Steve Springer’s passing, many wondered about the future of the business he worked so hard to grow.

“His number one thing was family and the next thing was the Shack,” Shea Springer said. “He loved it.”

So Juli Springer, owner, and Shea Springer, operator, are forging ahead to keep the business going one year after his passing.

“He would be happy to see us keep it going,” said Juli Springer, who also works as the school nurse at Cooper Elementary School.

Shea Springer works as a Fort Dodge firefighter. The fire station is located directly across the street from the Snack Shack.

He’s been a firefighter for almost three years.

“It’s a physical challenge just as much as mental,” Shea Springer said. “I love exercising and being in shape and being healthy. The other thing is you always have a set schedule so you know what you’re going into that day. But at the same time you have a number of calls that can come in during the shift. You never get bored. It’s never stagnant. There’s always something to learn.”

He described the department as his second family.

The 24-hour shifts allows him the flexibility of working at the Shack.

“I love my job there,” Shea Springer said. “I am grateful for the way the schedule is that I’m able to work here.”

Wontons were one item missing from the menu for most of the summer of 2020. That’s because Steve Springer always made those.

“One of the big things is the wontons are back this year,” Shea Springer said. “It’s hard because you have to roll hundreds and they only last a few days in the fridge.”

Juli Springer said plenty of customers have asked about them.

“Nobody gave up asking last year,” she said.

Shea Springer recommends calling ahead if planning to order more than two-dozen.

The pizza burger, Shack Dog, Shack Burgers and chicken strips are among the other food options.

In terms of ice cream, the menu includes 12 flavors with weekly special flavors on rotation.

The eight regular flavor burst flavors include: peanut butter, root beer, bubble gum, strawberry, cotton candy, green apple, black raspberry and butter pecan.

The Larita’s Razzle is a local favorite. That includes frosting from Larita’s Cakes N More. The caramel apple sundae is another popular treat.

Over 30 people are on the list to work at the Shack over the spring and summer. Many are high school or college students.

“We like to give high school students and early college students a chance to lern some adult skills,” Juli Springer said. “We like kids involved in sports and community activities. Those are good kids and we have a lot returning from last year.”

Shea Springer’s brothers, Sean and Sawyer, support the business as well. Sean Springer works full-time at Midwest Medical Rides. Sawyer Springer is a senior at Fort Dodge Senior High. He is active in sports and other extra curricular activities.

Shea Springer and Juli Springer are looking forward to seeing friends drop by for a treat this summer.

“My mom and I are super honored we can continue this place,” Shea Springer said. “The entire goal is to support the community. He (Steve Springer) just liked people to smile. He said ice cream cones make people smile.”

The Snack Shack will open for the season on April 1. Regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Shack will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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