If you had to describe Paleterias Tropicana in just a few words, what would they be?
Real, authentic homemade ice cream. When we first opened, we were only thinking about ice cream and popsicles. Eventually, we realized people wanted to eat something substantial before dessert and that it would be a good idea to offer savory food as well, or we would lose those diners to another restaurant.
How did Paleterias Tropicana get started?
My wife and I are both from Mexico. Opening a paleteria, an authentic Mexican ice cream and popsicle place, in the U.S. was my wife’s idea. When she was a teenager, she worked as a cashier at La Michoacana, one of the most famous ice cream places in Mexico. She always dreamed of having this business, and we made it happen.
How is Mexican ice cream different from American ice cream?
The process for making it is basically the same, but the flavors and ingredients are different. We try to use 100 percent fruit, including mangoes, papayas and kiwis. We use tropical flavors like tamarind and pineapple.
What are your signature creations?
One of our signature dishes is a mango sorbet that uses ripe mangoes and little else. We have a special machine to make it, and the flavor and texture are unmatched. It is layered with a sweet syrup spiced with chile, lime and salt and then topped with a tamarind paste. We have another flagship product called Freshata, which is our own version of horchata, a Mexican rice drink spiced with cinnamon.
What items do you typically source from Sysco?
We probably buy 70 percent of our inventory from Sysco, including disposables, center-of-plate proteins and produce.
Our [Sysco] Marketing Associate … is my right- hand man. We work together on every aspect of the business.
José Luis Valdez
What are your plans for the future?
It has been 15 years of hard work. We never stand still, and we are constantly moving forward to build this concept and expand in different directions. We are currently setting up a plant to produce ice cream and popsicles, and we may package our products and sell them in retail stores. There are a lot of interesting possibilities. One thing we know we want to continue to do is to give other people opportunities and show that Hispanic immigrants can create lots of jobs.
How has Sysco helped you grow your business?
Andrew Morales, our Marketing Associate, has helped me from the very beginning. He is my right-hand man. We do produce demonstrations and menu analyses together. We do a business review at least once a year and sometimes twice a year. We work together on every aspect of the business, including research and development.