I was once an unbeliever. Approaching the order window at Jerry’s Sno Cones after a sweat-soaked slog around the Memphis Zoo a few summers ago, I was aware of the option to upgrade my cone to a Supreme, meaning it would be layered with soft-serve vanilla ice cream. But I knew that a cherry-lime snow cone represented perfection on its own, and this Supreme gimmickry seemed a clear case of gilding the icy lily (and just plain weird).
My kids, not so rigid in their frozen-treat predilections, were fully aboard, despite being cautioned that there would be no do-overs. When my daughter dug into her Mango Tango Supreme with wide eyes, I begrudgingly accepted a spoonful—and immediately wrested the entire cup from her hands. I wasn’t wrong about the concoction being weird. Weirdly delicious.
Given the snaking lines outside the two Memphis Jerry’s stands these days, it’s hard to believe that until fairly recently, it was somewhat of an “in-the-know” enterprise. In the late 1960s, L.B. and Cordia Clifton turned an old Sinclair gas station on an out-of-the-way northeastern Memphis intersection into a combo carwash and snow-cone stand named for their son. The snow cones stuck, but even after the 1989 Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire used the stand’s retro, pastel-painted exterior as a backdrop, it remained mostly a neighborhood draw, especially for the shaved-ice-and-soft-serve hybrid that a restless Clifton grandchild concocted some years before.
In 2005, David Acklin, who had chased girls at the stand in high school, acquired Jerry’s from the Cliftons as a means to escape his dead-end job. Determined to make all of Memphis love Jerry’s as much as he did, he hit upon promoting the oddball Supreme, a mission soon aided by the explosion of look-at-what-I’m-eating social media.
“We were the best-kept secret in town for a while,” Acklin says. “Now customers tell me they came to Memphis to visit two places—Graceland and Jerry’s.” Thanks to Memphis’s temperate climate, the stand is open for year-round visits.
What makes a Supreme so transcendent, a sumptuous sum even greater than its yummy parts?
“It works because our ice is so fine, not grainy or crunchy, so it blends creamily with the soft serve,” Acklin says. “Our snow is softer than anywhere else.” He’s not wrong—the Jerry’s ice approaches the ultrafine powder of New Orleans’s beloved sno-balls.
Mindful of potential competitors, Acklin declines to divulge what percentage of customers order a Supreme, but to spend time in a Jerry’s line is to know the answer is well north of half. “If someone doesn’t order a Supreme the first time, once they see how beautiful it is, they want it,” he says. (Yes, he’s got me pegged.) As for overall sales, he’ll only hint that on a hot summer day, three thousand spoons can disappear.
Acklin is more forthcoming about his own go-to order. “Blue raspberry Supreme. That’s my flavor, hands down.”
Sounds tasty, but I think I’ll stick to cherry-lime Supreme. A man can only change his dessert habits so much.