Mitchell Street's El Chavo prepares to bring paletas indoors
In 2000, Hershay Adan moved to Milwaukee from Guerrero, Mexico. His plan was to eventually move back to Mexico, but he decided to stay and subsequently some of his family members moved here, too.
Adan worked for La Michoacana, 717 S. 2nd St., a company that makes paletas (pah-LAY-tahs) and sells the frozen treats on a stick in carts that are pushed or driven by palteros (vendors of paletas).
"I learned the business little by little until I eventually managed it," says Adan.
In 2008, Adan decided to apply what he learned from La Michoacana to his own business, but found himself in a lawsuit, when owner Edgar Martinez claimed Adan had stolen his recipes. However, this was not proven in court.
"I would never open a business with the same stuff for sale. That doesn't make sense," says Adan. "I showed in court I had my own recipes from Mexico and I won."
Adan named his new business El Chavo – which is a Spanish word similar to "dude" or "guy" – and today he has about 50 paleta carts and will soon open a walk-in ice cream shop, also called El Chavo.
The ice cream shop is next door to El Chavo's cart storage and kitchen space at 730 W. Mitchell St.
The shop will feature all 19 paleta flavors, along with ice cream cones, sundaes (including banana splits), shakes, flavored water, yogurt with fruit and ice-cream topped waffles and crepes.
Eventually, Adan plans to offer coffee and is currently shopping for espresso machines.
All of the frozen treats and ice cream are processed in the Mitchell Street space and made from fresh fruit bought locally at Pete's Fruit Market, 1400 N. Union St., or from other Chicago-based markets.
El Chavo – the ice cream shop – was recently remodeled by Adan and various family members. It has orange walls, plenty of seating and a kids' area where movies will air. It also has wifi.
"This is very much a family business," says Adan.
Adan says the most popular flavors of paletas are bubblegum and lemon for kids and, for adults, coconut, mamey (a tropical fruit popular in Central America and Cuba) and rice are the most coveted.
"They're all really good," says Adan, who lives in Bay View.
Adan employs employs up to 50 paleteros on the weekends in the summer. They work their own hours, between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., on commission, splitting sales 50/50 with Adan. The paletas are $1.50 each and the other frozen treats are $1.75. On a good day, a paletero will pull in $300.
"The most important part of the cart is the bells," says Adan. "No bells, no sales."
Adan hopes the shop, which will be open all year, will provide winter-time income. He also plans to someday open a Mexican restaurant.
Adan also gives tours of his facility to neighborhood school groups. The tours always end with paleta samples, which might have provided some of the inspiration for the numerous thank-you cards from kids taped to the walls.
"This business is for the community," he says.
El Chavo's hours will be 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee.com for the exact opening date of El Chavo.
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