Taking the last big spoonful of her Pepsi snoball, Deirdre Werth, of Hays, set down her empty 20-ounce paper cup and declared, “OK, I win. I did it Russ, did anybody time that?”
It was the Cerv’s 25th-anniversary snoball chugging contest on Friday, and, for the record, Werth did it in about a minute-and-a-half, according to the guesstimate of one of her opponents across the picnic table from her, Kelsey Schoen, also of Hays.
“It felt like I was starting out really good, and then I went downhill,” said Schoen after the contest. “I can seriously feel that in my chest; my mouth is frozen.”
The three-day Cerv’s anniversary celebration kicked off Friday with snoball-chugging, and 16-ounce cups of coffee selling for 10 cents to commemorate the price back in 1994 when Verlin and Elaine Pfannenstiel opened the convenience store at Vine and 27th streets.
Owned and operated since 1999 by their son, Russ Pfannenstiel, the brand has expanded from one store to six now, four in Hays, one in Great Bend and one in Hoisington.
“It’s been very enjoyable, a challenge every day,” said the younger Pfannenstiel, who was on hand Friday to lead his crew in the weekend’s celebration events. “A lot of it is a ‘thank you’ to the community, past employees and vendors for their support and patronage over the years.”
In the years since its founding, with competitors like Kwik Shop, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Casey’s and Dillons, there’s been a change in the convenience store dynamic, said Pfannenstiel.
“The bigger chains keep getting bigger and bigger and you have fewer and fewer individual operators,” he said. Over the years, Cerv’s has added a larger selection of fountain drinks, coffees and cappuccinos, bierocks and other snacks and foods.
“We always try to expand and bring new items in that cater to our customers and what they ask for,” Pfannenstiel said.
What’s next? “Just to maintain and act on any opportunities that might arise,” he said.
Rachel Luedders, Hays, and Chelsie Andrews, Bennington, two graduates of the tourism and hospitality program at Fort Hays State University, helped Pfannenstiel develop and plan the marketing events for the weekend.
“Are you ready for a brain freeze?” she asked contestant Lindsey Pfannenstiel, Hays, prior to the start of the snoball contest.
“No,” laughed Pfannenstiel, who will be a freshman at Bethel College in Newton. “I’m leaving for college today … I saw it on Facebook the other day and thought I was just signing up for a free T-shirt.”
Contestants were chosen after leaving a personal anecdote about Cerv’s snoballs, the signature icy drink for which Cerv’s is famous. Back in 1994, there was one small machine and two flavors, Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Today, there are easily 20, and that doesn’t count if you mix several together.
Luedders had her own story.
“Cerv’s has kind of been a second home for me, as bad as it sounds,” she laughed. “We’d come here every day and we’d get snoballs.”
Trisha Myers, Hays, who just moved back from Boise, Idaho, was also a contestant, despite confessing, “I can’t chug a snoball.” She’s put snoballs in an ice chest before to deliver them to friends relocated from Hays to Kansas City.
At the last minute Friday, when one contestant bowed out, Fort Hays yell leader Luke Oatney was tapped as the sixth contestant. A sophomore majoring in environmental geology, Oatney was acutely aware of the challenge a few gulps in.
“It’s so cold,” he said.
“I’m not doing well at all,” said Lindsey Pfannenstiel.
As Werth polished hers off, Oatney commented on the half cup he still had left.
“I seriously didn’t want a headache for the whole day,” said Lindsey, explaining why she hadn’t made much of a dent in her snoball.
As the winner, Werth was presented with a certificate for a free snoball every day for a year, a $50 gas card, and a Cerv’s T-shirt and hoodie. Consolation prizes went to the others.
“My kids are always asking me how I can drink my snoballs so fast,” said Werth. “I worked here for 12 years, off and on. I’ve had lots of snoballs in my life, so I knew I had a good chance.”