North Augusta’s Vampire Penguin turns profits into scholarships
-Photo on left is Jack and Judi Poole. Taken by Elizabeth Hustad
Vampire Penguin has been in North Augusta for some time now, but an unusual twist in business happened toward the end of last year.
Jack and Judi Poole bought the license to this little shaved ice and dessert shop on Georgia Avenue at the end of 2021 and also decided it would no longer follow the typical model of most for-profit business.
Instead, all profits made, down to the last penny, would be turned into opportunities for others to make a profit: The money made at North Augusta’s Vampire Penguin all goes into scholarships to technical colleges.
The Vampire Penguin hopes to be “a source of infinite joy to his infinite void,” according to the back story on the Vampire Penguin website. Inside the North Augusta shop, a painting illustrates his hope.
It’s “retirement fun,” laughs Judi. “Since it doesn’t bring in any money, it’s not really a job.”
She’s just delivered plates of shaved ice to two customers on this chilled December day, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” playing in the background. Husband Jack Poole concocted the artful creations behind the shop’s black curtain – proprietary secrets, Judi said.
Not a lick of food service experience before this venture, Vampire Penguin became that retirement fun they’d always wanted because of their management and financial know-how, combined with the employees they say truly keep the place going and a God-spoken mission to give back. The butter pecan snow at North Augusta’s Vampire Penguin is unique to the shop, a creation devised by Jack Poole.
Benefit of the license model – Vampire Penguin isn’t a franchise – is that the Pooles can make their own delights, like the butter pecan snow, a veritable praline but in the texture of freshly-fallen, extra-powdery snow of a cold, cold day.
Having their own retirement fund squared away after working more than 35 years each in the corporate world is what allowed them to have their retirement fun.
“It just enabled us to say, let’s have kind of an engine, like a small company, that creates profits that we just turn around and they create scholarships,” Jack said. “That was kind of the wish.”
A wish that began, sort of, 30 years ago with a visit to Seaside, Fla.
A key lime pie Sno Cone – with crushed graham crackers and laced with condensed milk – from an old-timey rounded trailer on the beach has been somewhere in Jack’s head all these years.
“That was stuck on my mind – man, you’re living on the beach, making this wonderful dessert for people and obviously making some money. This might be kinda cool!” he laughs.
They left the work world behind for a retirement of travel and then left that behind for a retirement of shaved ice and an orange, tuxedoed penguin - the mascot of Vampire Penguin.
Judi laughs. “When we told them the why, that answered all their questions,” she said of breaking the news to their adult children.
The “why,” they explain, was to have a business that runs itself, gives them something fun to do and that gives back in a way that could create returns for years to come.
The Pooles and their Vampire Penguin brought a $25,000 check to Aiken Technical College in December for an endowed scholarship that will help students for years to come.
“If we can create a scholarship that creates really high paying jobs. and the student isn’t saddled with debt of any kind, then they’re getting their whole career started off on the right foot,” Jack said.
“It changes the trajectory of that student’s life,” Judi said. “But not only for them, for their future generations.”
And besides, Jack said, “how fun is it to be able to create a dessert that makes people happy?”