PORTLAND, Texas — Before the French family opens their purple shaved ice trailer for business, people are already there waiting to place orders.

Chris and Katie French know that Mr. Rigaroo’s Shaved Ice is not a new idea. Plenty of businesses along the Texas coast offer the same dessert. But the couple thinks the business is successful because of the young man behind the counter, their 16-year-old son Justin Rig French.

Rig was diagnosed with autism at a young age, but that hasn’t kept him from communicating with everyone he comes across. With a booming voice, he greets those in line with a smile before making their shaved ice.

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“He’s the king of socialization,” Katie French said. “He loves meeting people.”

The Frenches got the idea to open the business a few years ago while spending spring break in Hawaii. The family got shaved ice often on that vacation. Rig still remembers his first order.

“It was a flower cup with birthday cake,” Rig said.

Because Rig, a Gregory-Portland High School senior, struggles with academics, his family thought of starting the trailer as an alternative to college.

“We’re not entrepreneurs, but we did research on this and it’s hot 90 percent of the time in Portland,” Chris French said. “Now, Rig has his own bank account and writes checks to his employees. I’m hoping he can support himself with this in the long-term.”

When the family first opened Mr. Rigaroo’s Shaved Ice on May 15, hundreds of people showed up. The wait was nearly an hour. The family said all the customers had nothing but good things to say about their first experience.

“I think it’s great for the community,” said Bill Denton, who has been a regular customer ever since. “Rig is an outstanding young man that does a great job and works hard.”

The French family hopes that Rig has found his calling serving shaved ice.

“The only reason we can be successful is because of Rig’s ties to the community,” Chris French said. “Because of his nature and because he’s so nice, I think he can make a life out of this.”

© 2016 the Corpus Christi Caller-Times
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