Quincy’s La Michoacana making its mark across the state
Imagine having a job where you give people three to four thousand reasons to smile every day, if only for a few minutes.
That’s the life of Heriberto Birrueta and his family, who run La Michoacana ice cream shop and factory in Quincy, and who make 3,000-4,000 ice cream “paletas” each day, Monday to Saturday.
Paleta is the Mexican term for what Americans call the type of ice cream that comes on a stick, like popsicles or creamsicles. It comes from its similarity to a paddle, which translated to Spanish, is also a paleta, (pah-LAY-tuh).
As its name indicates, (Michoacan is a state in Mexico from where the Birruetas hail,) the paletas have to taste just like the ones in Mexico.
“It’s very important,” Birrueta said in Spanish. “For one to feel like one is in Mexico, one has to have a paleta with the flavor of Mexico.”
The flavors, around 30 of them in all, haven’t varied in about eight or nine years. Birrueta started La Michoacana about 15 years ago.
The shop’s storage is at capacity right now, otherwise they would come up with other flavors, he added. If they had the room, they would also make their own scooped ice cream, but since they don’t, they buy it.
Birrueta said they hope to have a new place built by next year, always in Quincy, and that might give them a little more room.
Meanwhile, they will continue making the paletas in their small shop, starting around 8 a.m. with batches of 240 paletas taking about 40 minutes to finish.
The work intensifies in July, with the hot weather increasing the demand, and the little shop on D Street cranking out around 6,000 paletas each day.
That’s not to say that it’s a picnic the first six months of the year. Making the paletas may be easy after 15 years, but there’s still plenty of effort involved in keeping the business going.
About three times a week, Heriberto and a relative jump in their truck and distribute their paletas in places like Tacoma and Mount Vernon.
Sometimes, while on the road, he samples the goods, but not too often, says Birrueta, a cold-storage loader before he bought the paleta recipe from a friend and started La Michoacana.
Asked if he would pick making ice cream if given the choice again between the cold-store job and his current job, he laughed and said “Depends on how much it pays.”
Ice cream can pay the bills, Birrueta said. Distribution makes the difference, if it were just the shop, it would be tougher.
“If it were just the one place, we could do it, but just survive on it,” he said.
With the coconut paleta their top seller, and with production in the thousands of units, La Michoacana can afford to sell them at a buck apiece.
“It’s all based on our sacrifice,” Birrueta said when asked how they managed to keep prices low. “And since we buy the cream in large quantities, that helps. We don’t make much per unit, but since we sell a lot, we earn a little more.”
Luck is not as necessary as effort and courage to make it in the paleta world, Birrueta said.
“It’s not about luck, it’s about work,” he said. “It’s about seeking that customer and pitching the product.”
He sought, he pitched, he was told “no” many times, Birrueta said.
“With some customers, I have had to stop by as many as 10 times to close a deal,” he said.
Brand recognition and customers voicing their predilection for La Michoacana to store owners has helped, too.
Nowadays, people as far away as Bridgeport leave the shop with their hands full of paletas.
“They take, 50, 100, 200 at a time,” Birrueta said.
Sometimes, the locals take one or two, but they leave just as happy.
“It’s the only place in town to get scooped ice cream,” customer Marci Lindemeier said. “And their popsicles are amazing, ”
By Sebastian Moraga, email@example.com