The simple counters and stacks and stacks of frozen popsicles at La Buena Michoacana Natural Ice Cream and Fruit Bars belie the work that happens behind the scenes, when owners Liz Echeverria, her husband Luciano Mendoza and staff process the dozens of fruits, teas, vegetables, spices and other ingredients to create paletas - specifically, their signature popsicles, along with home-made ice cream and other Mexican frozen desserts.
For generations, Paleterías, popsicle stores, have shared the moniker of “La Michoacana” throughout Mexico with surprisingly little grouse about copyright infringement or licensing lawsuits. The legendary business sprouted out of the Tocumbo, Michoacán region, where several entrepreneurs separately left their hometown, learned how to create popsicles and formed the basis for what would be a loosely-associated, very successful business brand, which successfully grew across Mexico and is now having similar success in the U.S.
In California, communities lucky enough to have a Paletería will often see the Michoacana name included in the store’s name - a tradition honoring the founders of the original business and a shoutout to what is, in Mexico a well-known brand.
“This was my husband’s dream - to open an ice cream store. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” notes Echeverria. “I was working as a front desk secretary at Anderson Valley Elementary School. I was very stable in my work. Luciano convinced me, and I’m very happy he did. We’re super happy with the business. We both enjoy it so much.”
It’s not unusual for families to covet popsicle-making secrets. Even though there are estimates of between 8,000 and 15,000 Paleterías in Mexico, they are not identified as a unified franchise as it is understood in the U.S. Shop owners operate independently. “We got a lot of help from my relatives who own three shops in Santa Maria. They taught us how to make the ice cream and popsicles, so that’s why we’re here. We learned everything from them. We worked with them for a week at their shops, and then they came up her for a week,” she explains.
When the family operation opened in May of 2015, they started with 27 flavors. Luciano got bitten by the flavor bug. “Now we’re up to 48 popsicle flavors. Every few days, my husband walks in and says, ‘I got an idea,” so we try a new one,” Echeverria smiles.
“It’s a lot of work, more than eight hours a day sitting at a desk, but it’s been great.”
Right now, the Echeverrias are producing about 1,500 popsicles weekly, sometimes more, depending on the weather. Along with popsicles, they produce hand-made ice cream. “We don’t use any stabilizers or artificial flavorings. Our fruit bars are pure fruit and a just a little bit of sugar, she notes. “But bubble gum ice cream is bubble gum flavoring, of course,” she smiles.
Making the popsicles takes about nine hours, says Echeverria. “We prep everything we can the day before. There is a lot of cutting involved. You can see the cut pieces of fruit inside our popsicles,” she notes. Molds go into a machine that fast-freezes the popsicles. Each mold holds 30 popsicles.
Popsicles are the most popular item in the store. “Some people say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen these. They are amazing!’ We have quite a few customers that come every day.”
Right now, there are 48 flavors of popsicles available. They can be divided into the cream flavors, made with dairy or the water-based popsicles, made with fruit.
Cream-based flavors cover just about everything you’d find in a traditional store and then there’s more- eggnog, prune, quince jam, coffee and cream, strawberries and cream, tequila, coconut, yogurt and berries, rose petals, rice-pudding flavored arroz, pumpkin and cream and avocado
Water-based popsicle flavors include familiar and exotic fruits- mango, lemon, pineapple, papaya, tamarind, watermelon, mango with Chile, cucumber with Chile, papaya, strawberry and lots more.
“All our popsicles can be esquimales - dipped in chocolate. And our water-based popsicles are fat free,” she smiles.
Echevarria is very proud to offer a special fruit for paleta aficionados. “One of the rarer flavors for this area is a popsicle made from the Nanche fruit. “It’s a fruit from Mexico that looks like a yellow cherry. We also have Soursop and the Mamey fruit - on the outside the Mamey looks like a mango, but it’s shaped more like a papaya.”
The ice cream flavors tend more to the creamy, with popular tequila, chocolate, Mexican Chocolate, lemon, strawberry and more. Ice cream is served in scoops, cones, waffle cones, banana splits and in popular fruit bowls.
“One of our specialties is Pico de Gallo, fresh fruit with salt and lemon, like a fruit cocktail,” We also serve fresh strawberries and warmed cream.”
Freshly prepared beverages change weekly. “This week we have horchata, hibiscus, Pina Colada, strawberry and watermelon drinks, which are very popular right now.”
Like every Michoacana, Echeverria makes the cinnamon-flavored Michoacana popsicle that started the paleta craze about 70 years ago.
“My home town is about 15 minutes from the birthplace of La Michoacana. Every year in December, they have a Popsicle Fair for two weeks with music, fun and lots of popsicles. We feel lucky to be able to have our business here. Today, only the very wealthy would be able to have a business like this in Mexico,” she explains.
La Buena Michoacana can create special orders for parties and other events.
“After the movies, this is the place to come,” she concludes.
La Buena Michoacana’s summer hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, seven days per week. They are located at 1252 Airport Blvd. Park Falls Plaza, behind Les Schwab Tires. For more information phone (707) 467-1100 or visit their Facebook page.
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)