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2017-07-19 / Featured / News

Tequila, corn and the flavors of La Michoacana

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

Don’t let La Michoacana’s unassuming exterior fool you; inside, fuchsia walls and fiesta decorations surround a flavor explosion.

Mango and chili. Mexican cake. Tequila. Corn. The flavors of Mexican ice cream and popsicles crafted at La Michoacana are as surprising as they are delicious. And everything – from the tres leches popsicles to the Key lime pie ice cream – is made by hand.

Founded a decade ago this month, the business sells 42 varieties of ice cream and nearly as many popsicles from its Midlothian Turnpike storefront in Buford Shopping Center.

Husband and wife owners Jesus Lopez and Haronid Reyes maintain a flavor catalog so extensive they can’t carry all of them at any one time, with a range that stretches from vanilla to bacon-flavored ice cream.


Husband-wife team Jesus Lopez and Haronid Reyes own and operate La Michoacana on Midlothian Turnpike. La Michoacana's paletas – traditional Mexican ices – include flavors like rice and mango-chili. 
JENNY McQUEEN Husband-wife team Jesus Lopez and Haronid Reyes own and operate La Michoacana on Midlothian Turnpike. La Michoacana's paletas – traditional Mexican ices – include flavors like rice and mango-chili. JENNY McQUEEN “That was pretty good, but I don’t have the [counter] space,” Lopez says of the latter.

Lopez, who immigrated to Virginia 17 years ago from the Zacatecas state of Mexico, got the idea to open a nevería – Spanish for ice cream parlor – from a conversation with a friend. Lopez had voiced his desire to start his own business, but was unsure what he wanted to do. Noting that there were many Latino grocery stores and restaurants in the area but no one making ice cream, his friend suggested an ice cream parlor and the idea stuck.

Ten years on, La Michoacana is still making ice cream – or helado, meaning “frozen” – using a hand-churning method that lets in less air, making it denser with a lower fat content like gelato. La Michoacana’s popsicles – or, more properly, paletas – are traditional Mexican ices made with fresh fruit and occasionally vegetables.

There are two types of paletas, a name derived from the Spanish word palo, meaning “stick”: paleta de agua, made from fresh fruit, water and sweetener; and paleta de leche, made with a powdered base. La Michoacana serves both kinds.

La Michoacana is one of thousands of independent neverías named for Michoacán, the Mexican state known for its helado and paletas. Together, they form an informal brand made up of private businesses. There’s more than one origin story surrounding the La Michoacana brand. One involves a Mexican family that moved to the United States and returned to Mexico in the 1960s. Another goes that in either 1932 or 1942, two men named Agustín Andrade and Ignacio Alcazar worked at a popsicle shop in Mexico City before returning home to Michoacán and creating a business model copied by others. The name wasn’t trademarked or copyrighted at its inception, so no one person can claim ownership.

Today, there are more than 15,000 La Michoacana locations in Mexico, and many in the United States, including two in Chesterfield, both of which are independently owned. Aside from the name and a white and pink color scheme, the individual stores vary widely, including their interiors and recipes.

Lopez and Reyes’ La Michoacana location on Midlothian Turnpike makes more than 1,000 paletas a day, and regularly accepts special orders for hundreds or thousands at a time. Both the helado and paletas are sold at Latino markets in Central Virginia, Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

Lopez is appreciative of his business’ success, but don’t ask him to pick a favorite flavor.

“If you have a family, you love every one. It’s the same thing with my product,” Lopez says. “We do every one of them with the same love.” La Michoacana also sells aguas frescas – a type of non-alcoholic fruit and cereal drink – and has a hot-item menu that includes chicharrón (a pork rind dish), elote (Mexican grilled corn on a stick) and nachos. Reyes says the store fills up on the weekends, and has a line out the door before and after church on Sundays.

The company now has four employees, and Reyes, who hails from Florida and joined the business in 2014, says she’s proud of her husband for making their nevería a reality.

“He’s a hard worker,” Reyes says. “He’s proud to be here and do something different.” ¦

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