Las Paletas puts ‘pop’ in Popsicles
Customers bump elbows and shuffle for a spot to view today’s flavors. Children’s chatter bounces off the walls as they push toward the counter to find “red,” but “red” is not a flavor at Las Paletas. Among these Mexican ice pops, red might be hibiscus or watermelon; green could be avocado today, lime or honeydew tomorrow.
“Mexican culture prides itself on feeding people we love and care about, and doing it from scratch using natural ingredients,” said Irma Paz, who opened a tiny but thriving popsicle shop in Nashville nine years ago with her sister, Norma.
Before crafting creamy paletas, Paz worked as an independent TV producer for nine years for Spanish speaking networks like Telemundo and Galavisión. “You have the capability of creating something that somebody else has imagined, or creating something that’s in your own imagination and putting it on camera,” she said. “You become very good at making things possible.”
Paz’s career shifted from TV production to a different kind of production. As it turns out, producing TV and making paletas are a lot alike.
While still working in production, Paz’s sister recruited her to help create a business that would eventually become Las Paletas.
The idea for the store didn’t come about until after Paz and her sister, along with other family and friends, went on a road trip home to Guadalajara. Norma’s sister-in-law remarked that the United States didn’t have Popsicle shops like Mexico’s paleterias. “That’s where it all started,” Paz said.
“The biggest inspiration is Mother Nature. You can’t go wrong with that,” Paz said. “Whatever fruit is available and good quality, that’s what we make. It’s really simple.”
“We don’t use food coloring No. 5.”
More than 100 flavors range from rose petal to chocolate wasabi. Each batch is unique, and based on honoring real, fresh ingredients. “We don’t do ‘Monday’s lime’ because creatively it would be so plateau in the kitchen. We make what’s in season,” Paz said.
Like Mexican paleterias, Las Paletas makes popsicles using chunks of fresh fruit like pineapple, lime or strawberry. Other flavors are creamier like hot chocolate, chai tea and coffee. Ice pops like pineapple with peppers or chocolate with chile push peoples’ palates.
Energy is everything in the kitchen. “We put music on. We laugh. We joke around,” Paz said. “That’s how we make food growing up in Mexico.”
When Paz was growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, a paletaria was on each corner of the town square, paletas were part of daily diet.
“It wasn’t until I stepped away from it that I realized how fortunate I was to grow up in a culture where there is so much healthy, fresh food on the street,” Paz said.
Making food from scratch is a staple of Mexican culture, and for Paz, it’s a way to show affection.
“We make paletas for the community, and not just Nashville, but people from all over,” Paz said. “We do it truly with a thankful heart. It’s about selling experiences.
“People want to know that the $2.50 they’re spending is an investment, that it’s well spent,” she said.
Customers’ reactions serve as instant validation for Paz. “It’s one on one. It’s not a number and it’s not a speculation,” Paz said.
“When I see people lick it or bite it and go “wow,” then my hope has been fulfilled.”
Even though only a small sign marks Las Paletas and the Paz sisters don’t advertise, word gets out. Las Paletas has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, National Geographic, Travel, and the New York Times.
“Customers keep us alive,” Paz said. “If they don’t come in and they don’t pay for the product, we can’t make it.”
Connecting with customers and making popsicles from fresh ingredients is the focus at Las Paletas. “My hope is that each person walks away with more than what they hoped for, more than what they needed and more than what they wanted,” Paz said.