Noelia Scharon was thinking, of all things, about tamarind ice pops.
She missed them. The sweet yet tart fruit was abundant in Mexico and the Caribbean, not so much in southern Chester County, where she managed payroll at Kaolin Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square. So she visited the ice cream capital of Mexico — Michoacán — indulged in traditional ice cream and ice pop flavors (avocado, guava, passion fruit, and tamarind high on the list), and returned to the United States with an idea.
That was in 2002. The following year, Scharon teamed up with three friends, gathered time-honored Mexican ice cream and ice pop recipes, and opened in Kennett Square. It wasn’t the first ice cream shop in the then-sleepy, one-square-mile borough. But it was the first to bring fresh ice cream with familiar flavors that recalled home and childhood for Kennett Square’s many Latino immigrants.
Sixteen years later, the business is going strong.
“There’s so many Hispanics and many people missed the ice cream like I did," said Scharon, 52, a native of Puerto Rico who runs the shop with Juvenal Gonzalez and husband and wife Manuel and Martha Rodriguez. "I missed the flavors I couldn’t find around here.”
That’s what brings Juan Tenorio, 48, a local mushroom harvester originally from Guanajuato — a state just north of Michoacán — to La Michoacana twice a week. He’s partial to the butter pecan, coconut, and strawberry, he said in Spanish, adding with a laugh: “It’s the best.”
La Michoacana churns out avocado, sweet corn, tamarind, and other traditional Mexican flavors of ice cream, plus the standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry — 30 flavors in all — out of a modest shop. It’s an eyebrow-raising success story in a place such as Kennett Square, a tiny, tourist-heavy town where “nothing ever lasts,” said longtime resident Tami Bush.
When La Michoacana opened, Scharon said, there was initial doubt that the creamery would stay open for long. For a decade, various small businesses in the town had buckled quickly, felled by increasingly unaffordable rent, slow sales, and bad luck. La Michoacana not only survived, but also thrived, despite being open only seven months a year — from March to October. It also sells wholesale ice cream and ice pops year-round.
But the heart of it all — La Michoacana Homemade Ice Cream — is a one-room, standing-only shop with a bright-pink interior on East State Street. It’s become a mecca of sorts in town, a mainstay for birthdays, graduations, dates, and just ordinary summer days.
The place is especially popular with the locals, although Scharon has noticed fewer Latino families visiting amid increased deportation sweeps across the country. And the other day, as people stood in line waiting for ice cream, a customer quietly dropped off a Spanish-language informational packet about the rights of undocumented immigrants.
“It makes me sad,” Scharon said. “At the same time, I worry about my business, of course, and the families, how they cannot enjoy themselves. It’s summer. It’s a time to go out with the kids and they’re not doing that because they’re scared.”
For a moment, her face was lined with concern. Then she broke into a cheery smile as a customer walked in. Talk of immigration faded away, usurped by requests for milkshakes and thickly stacked ice-cream cones.
Dozens of customers filled the small creamery within an hour on a recent day. Longtime devotee Michele Gator drove 30 minutes from Downingtown, knowing exactly what she wanted. One scoop of sweet corn, another of avocado. A kick of spice on top.
“They’re super nice people,” Gator, 56, said of La Michoacana’s owners. “And it’s always crowded.”
The key to La Michoacana’s success: ice cream made from whole milk and fresh ingredients, including lime, pineapple, and mango. For extra flavor to sprinkle on top, it offers Tajin — a blend of chili, lime, and sea salt — and cinnamon.
There are original flavors. Scharon created “Sweet Memory,” in memory of her father, who died in 1981. It’s coconut and strawberry shortcake ice cream, a combination of his favorite desserts. Many of the flavors come from Mexico and the Caribbean, where she and her family were born and raised.
“It just started as an adventure,” Scharon said. “We didn’t think it was going to last this long.”