Summertime was when Jose Balderas and his 675 N. Broadway ice cream factory gave Willy Wonka a run for the money.
“Mango, strawberry, rompopo, which is like egg nog, over 20 flavors; popsicles, ice cream bars, it’s alright to eat as much as you want,” Balderas said a few years ago. “You only live once in this world so enjoy it. What else can you do? It’s an ice cream factory.”
Opened by Balderas and family in 2000 as Palateria Azteca, Helados Azteca is one of Escondido’s hidden treasures, a small storefront ice cream store in a nondescript strip mall that provides handcrafted ice cream and ice cream-related products daily for a local populace now sweltering with May heat.
“Not too many people sell homemade ice cream, homemade popsicles, ice cream bars, and icicles” continued an effervescent Balderas, now 67. “My family had an ice cram business in Mexico. It was my dream to open one in Escondido. People taste the ice cream one time and they always come back.”
Palateria roughly connotes popsicle factory in Spanish and helados is Spanish for ice cream. The Azteca was inspired by Balderas’ wife, Crescencia, who hails from Puebla, a large town about 100 miles southeast of Mexico City, in the shadow of ancient Aztec pyramids.
The Balderas’s worked for years at the KISS International water filter plant in Vista. When the company went belly-up, the couple decided to take a mortgage on their house and sink some $100,000 into a start-up ice cream factory and shop.
The move appears to have been a rousing success. With only word-of-mouth advertising, more than 200 people on weekdays and even larger overflow weekend crowds are bringing in revenues around $20,000 a month. Commercial customers stocking ice cream parlors as far away as Hemet and Perris have become steady buyers as well.
So sweet was the Helados Azteca Escondido location that Balderas wanted to open a Valley Center store some time . “Valley Center is a very hot place,” he said. “They need ice cream there.”
What’s more, Balderas wanted to open a Hemet store and continue expanding the wholesale business. After all, he has the right stuff, fresh and tasty to which he adds another ingredient of note: absolute dedication and love for ice cream.
Balderas opened the store-slash-factory daily at 8:30 a.m. Each of the 20 flavors of ice cream reside in two, 2 ½ gallon buckets, When the top bucket sells out, he replenishes it with ice cream made of all natural – and locally bought – ingredients created late in the day. The store closes at 10 p.m.
Butter pecan, coconut, French vanilla, guava, rice, even bubble gum with actual bubble gum all roll out of the factory in back using 15 to 20, five-gallon bags of milk a week. Prices basically are $1.25 a scoop, $3.50 for a very large with popsicles costing $1.25 each, a dozen for $10. Balderas also provides ice cream buckets for parties at $40 per which is half-price. He requires a couple days advance notice for that service.
Other Helados one-of-a-kind specialties include Bolis de Leche and Bolis de Agua, resembling Italian ices, Elote Preparado which is corn with cheese, salsa and mayonnaise; and Chicharron, a popular pasta dish with cabbage, tomatoes, pork, vinegar, and salsa. Fruit drinks, malts, and other unique specialty drinks generally run between $2 and $4 as do the prepared dishes.
Escondido homemaker Edith Torres was one of the multitude flocking to the Helados on Wednesday. She brought her brood, including Justin, 1; John, 10, Steve, 11; and Stephanie, 13.
“We love it here,” Torres said. “I just saw the sign one day last summer when they opened and stopped by. We’ve been coming here once or twice a week ever since. Everything is natural and fresh.”
Sweet words to Balderas’ ears. “I treat people nice,” he said before returning to the ice cream factory in back for another night of his Willy Wonka impersonation. whipping up fresh flavors. “Treating people nice has been the key to my business.”
Well, that and Escondido’s freshest and tastiest ice cream no doubt.
For more information call (760) 745-3231 or visit http://www.heladosazteca.com.