Photo by Stephanie Breijo
It’s a far cry from your run-of-the-mill vanilla ice cream shop. Streamers and “FIESTA” banners hang from the ceiling in the pink- and magenta-hued heladería; a cold case by the front register keeps Jarritos and Sidral Mundet fruit sodas cool in the Midlothian heat; an entire wall of chalkboard menus offers up 30 flavors on a given day, with options like Tequila, Butter and Blackberry & Cheese.
“Sometimes [people] don’t want to try these flavors, but once they try, they don’t go for the basic vanilla, chocolate, strawberry,” Haronid Reyes says wryly. She’s taking a short break from behind La Michoacana’s counter, where she has worked since the shop’s opening in 2010.
Mexico’s helado — typically lighter to the tongue due to little or no heavy cream —and its hyper-creative flavor varieties inspired her boyfriend, Jesus Lopez, to open his own shop in tribute to the establishments in his home city of Michoacán; the Richmond-area helado haven even shares its name with what is widely regarded as the first ice cream shop in Mexico.
“That’s where he came up with the idea to make one here,” Reyes says. “[Americans] have Cold Stone, they have different places, but they don’t have different flavors. They’re almost the same thing — chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, stuff like that — but they don’t go for others.”
Clearly, La Michoacana’s commitment to flavor has paid off. On a weekday afternoon, customers of all ages and races shuffle in to try spoonfuls of the spicy and sour Chamoy (made with real hot sauce), the mango with chili, cheese (made with cotija) and Angel Kiss — a golden blend of cherry, pecans, raisins and marshmallows. After 5 p.m. and on weekends, Reyes says, the place is swamped, with a line out the door in summertime. In the back kitchen, a handful of employees prepare 600 frozen pops, or paletas, for a delivery order — it’s business as usual at La Michoacana, where they’ll sell 30 or 40 gallons of ice cream in a week, regularly fill orders for 750 pops, and refresh the menu every two days because the shop churns out its product just that quickly.
Pops at La Michoacana
La Michoacana’s colorful setting mirrors the vibrant flavors of over 30 varieties of ice cream and pops. (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
“It’s crazy,” Reyes says, laughing. “We have this big popsicle freezer in the store and fill up the whole thing, and by 15 days, the whole thing is gone.” These freezer pops — stacked high and pebbled with fruit, cookies and whole pine nuts — are for La Michoacana customers, though the large orders make their way daily to Richmond-area stores like United Latino Market & Restaurant and Arco Iris Latino Market, often delivered by Lopez or his brother-in-law, who is also an owner. They are, Reyes tells me, their most popular product.
Found in a sleepy strip mall at 7808 Midlothian Turnpike, the sweet spot also offers chicharrónes (pork rinds), elote (corn on the cob with cotija cheese, hot sauce and crema fresca), and piña (a pineapple filled with fruit, salt and chili powder), plus a host of agua frescas and the classic, rice-based horchata made in-house.
In fact, there isn’t much that’s outsourced at La Michoacana. The small staff of six rotates when it comes to preparing the ice cream and pops, but work begins around 9 a.m. each morning and entails washing, chopping and blending fresh, seasonal fruit, then mixing the ice cream by hand before it cools in a freezer.
“We do everything by hand. Is it a lot of work? Yes. It is. But that’s the way we want to keep it,” Reyes says. “If you see our popsicles, like the strawberry one, we put the strawberry, by hand, in every mold.”
Here, it’s the attention to detail that counts. That, and all 30-plus of those delicious flavors. You can try my scoop of butter with strawberry, but be warned: You’ll probably want your own.
I scream, you scream...
Want a taste? Head to La Michoacana! (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)