COOLIDGE -- A mix of sweet and tantalizing smells wafts through the small ice cream parlor on Main Street between Roosevelt and Wilson avenues in Coolidge.
Sabor a La Michoacana is a family run shop owned by Emilio and Sandra Gonzalez and their three kids, Emily, Chris and Ana.
Gonzalez and his family relocated to Coolidge from California a few years back. Having worked as a manager for a large corporation, Gonzalez said he started the shop with the intention of teaching his children about what it takes to run a business.
He conducted some research and settled on the idea of starting an ice cream shop, given the size and scope of the operation.
"It's small enough and, at the same time, big enough to teach them how to run and operate a business," Gonzalez said. Since opening up shop, Gonzalez said the lesson is one his children have taken ownership of.
That includes his son Chris, who spends a lot of his time at the store assisting in maintenance and making the shop's selection of flavors.
"Chris has really taken on a lot of that ownership," Gonzalez said. "He's the one that is (always) learning and picking my brain — there's been a lot of growth in just a matter of one year. And that's basically what I was looking for."
As the name suggests, Sabor a La Michoacana offers flavors derived from Mexico. The ice cream and other sweet treats on the menu are made from scratch, and the shop also serves up ice cream flavors many patrons might be more familiar with.
But it wasn't always that way. The mix of traditional Mexican and American flavor offerings started after the location gained widespread local recognition for serving something unusual: corn ice cream.
Gonzalez said he was introduced to the flavor while learning how to operate the ice cream machines at the shop and was initially skeptical himself. But given its unexpectedly creamy and buttery flavor, he decided to keep it as one of the flavors on the menu.
It proved to be a good choice. Word about the unusual flavor quickly spread on social media as customers came in and tried it.
"Everybody was like 'Corn ice cream? What are you talking about?' So I'd allow them to taste it and they'd start Facebooking and texting," he said. "And before you knew it, we just had a long line of people wanting to try it out."
From there, Gonzalez and his family decided to try incorporating flavors from Mexico into the shop's selection. Some ice creams at the shop pull from popular Mexican desserts like gansito, while others get their flavor from fruits traditionally found in Mexico and Central America such as mamey. Those flavors in particular mean something special to Gonzalez, who recalls enjoying many of them while growing up.
One example are the paletas, a traditional frozen dessert of Mexico made using a fruit base. At the Coolidge ice cream shop, among those bases is mamey, known for its creamy texture and taste that is reminiscent of apricot, sweet potato and pumpkin. Getting to introduce customers to Mexican flavors like mamey is one rewarding aspect of running the store for Gonzalez — especially when customers walk away with a popsicle or a scoop or two of the newfound flavor.
Although August officially marked just one year since the the ice cream shop first opened its doors, the store has already managed to build a loyal following. Some customers even come from different parts of the county to get their ice cream fix.
According to Gonzalez, some order as many as 40 paletas at a time to stock up on their favorite flavors and, for some, the flavors that remind them of their childhood.
"Someone came in the other day and purchased a watermelon popsicle, and was like 'oh my goodness (this brought) tears to my eyes! It took me back to the '80s with the watermelon popsicle.' It's a great feeling," he said. "Even right now I'm getting goosebumps because that's really what it is (about) — you're bringing something for everybody to enjoy and so far that's what it's been like."
One flavor the shop always has on hand is mango ice cream, a key ingredient for another unusual and sweet snack the downtown Coolidge shop serves up — mangonada. This traditional frozen treat from Mexico mixes the sweetness of mangos with the saltiness and spice of chamoy sauce, a popular sauce and condiment in Mexico typically made from stone fruit and chiles.
At Sabor a La Michoacana, mangonadas start with a chamoy sauce that is made in-house. It's drizzled at the base then layered with the shop's mango ice cream. The treat is topped with more chamoy sauce and served with jabalina — a spicy and salty tamarind candy— more chamoy and salsaghetti, another popular candy made from tamarind sauce.
The final product is refreshing and sweet, with the chamoy and candies adding a surprising pop of flavor.
Other offerings include chocolate-covered bananas, aguas frescas and fresas con crema (strawberries and cream).
The shop sells many American classics as well including cookies and cream and bubble gum. Some offerings are even somewhat exclusive to the little Coolidge ice cream shop. For example, customers might run into an ice cream where the star of the dessert is the chocolate and hazelnut truffles made by Ferrero Rocher. This chocolatey hazelnut ice cream is a seasonal item that typically reappears at the shop around holidays like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
Though Gonzalez wishes he could offer more flavors, due to limited space, ice cream flavors at Sabor a La Michoacana are on a rotation. Flavors like the Ferrero Rocher are often only available for limited time periods.
The shop also offers ice cream made from Mexican vanilla, which tends to have a more yellowish hue compared to the vanilla ice cream customers may be used to. The shade is at times so in between yellow and orange that customers often confuse it for mango ice cream, Gonzalez said.
Sept. 15 marked the official start of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Being a Hispanic business owner, Gonzalez said he hopes his story will inspire other members of the Hispanic and Latino communities that feel they have something to offer when it comes to business or even art, including those that are eager to share parts of Hispanic culture with others.
"At the end, once you open up your business, it's all worth it because you're sharing your heritage — you're sharing your culture, you're sharing a little bit of México with everyone," he said.