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La Mejor de Michoacán scoops up bright ice cream flavors

Owners combine freshness and family in homemade concoctions

POSTED: July 30, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Ice cream

CHELSEY ABERCROMBIE/The Times

La Mejor de Michoacán makes a wide variety of homemade ice cream including, clockwise from top left, bubble gum, cookies and cream, coffee and lemon.

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Behind the counter of La Mejor de Michoacán, every possible color is represented in square containers of homemade ice cream visible just beneath frosted glass. The traditional pinks, whites and browns are joined by neon greens, blues and bright oranges that might be seen as less traditional in the world of ice cream flavors.

“They were a lot fuller before (Sunday),” Perla Medrano, owner of La Mejor de Michoacán, said of the containers.

Sunday is the day La Mejor de Michoacán does the most business, welcoming families of all sizes to one of its four locations in Gainesville and Norcross. At the Atlanta Highway location in Gainesville, Univision plays in the background as parents and their children queue to indulge in everything from chocolate-covered bananas to homemade dulce de leche cake.

The best seller, however, is the ice cream the Medranos and their employees make from scratch daily.

When Perla Medrano and her husband, Miguel, opened La Mejor de Michoacán in 2002, they were stunned by the popularity of their new business.

“It was crazy, because there were people out the door,” said Perla Medrano, who moved from Southern California to Gainesville nearly 12 years ago.

In California, Perla Medrano managed a Togo’s, a Subway and a Taco Bell. But when she moved to Georgia, she was inspired to combine her business smarts with her husband’s ability to make ice cream.

“(Miguel) always wanted to do his own business,” Perla Medrano said. “I was making everybody else money, so I was like ‘How about I make some money for ourselves?’”

Miguel Medrano originally discovered his passion for making ice cream when he first learned as a young boy in Mexico. He frequently arrives at his business at 7 a.m. to begin making the ice cream and often doesn’t leave until 8 p.m. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I started very young, 12 or 13,” Miguel Medrano said. “I started working with ice cream, and this is my life.”

To make the ice cream, Medrano starts with the milk base. He adds the fruit and churns it in a machine with salt. The ice cream contains no additives.

With this recipe, the couple started their business with a shop in Oakwood, which has expanded to twice its size. A second location — which is bigger than the first — was established at the corner of Pearl Nix Parkway and Atlanta Highway in Gainesville.

In both stores, the Medranos estimate serving 38-40 flavors of ice cream at any given time on a cone or in a cup. Some are basic staples such as vanilla, chocolate and cookies and cream. But La Mejor de Michoacán also serves several flavors Gainesville residents may not be familiar with such as guava, vanilla liquor, sweet milk candy and rice-flavored ice cream.

The shop also offers all of its ice creams in bar form. Patrons can purchase the bars already dipped in chocolate and coconut or peanuts or have them hand-dipped at the time of purchase.

“Right now what’s really popular and in season is the mango (ice cream),” Perla Medrano said. “It’s a water-based ice cream. They open (the mangos), they peel them, squeeze them out — that one sells really good right now.”

The freezers of colorful frozen treats might more closely resemble a candy store than a creamery, but they all have one thing in common: The Medranos will use only fresh ingredients to create their product. It’s reflected in the flavors and the taste.

“If you have a Popsicle that’s lemon, they actually squeeze the lemon,” Perla Medrano said. “It’s not something that they opened up a can and voila, you have lemon.”

As Perla speaks, employee Itzel Rebollar can be seen behind the counter chopping strawberries for a soon-to-be-made batch of strawberry ice cream. Chunks of fresh fruit, and sometimes cookie crumbles, can be tasted in the different varieties of hand-dipped ice cream.

La Mejor de Michoacán’s ingredients are purchased from the Atlanta Farmer’s Market, including the dairy, which is a 14 percent to 16 percent milk base. The locations receive deliveries every other day.

However, it’s more difficult for the ice cream shop to acquire specific fresh fruits in Georgia than it was when the Medranos lived in Southern California. But the owners are willing to go through the extra hassle for one important reason.

“It’s for the best products,” Miguel Medrano said. “The use of the fresh produce, fruit, everything.”

The business’ name, after the Mexican state of Michoacán, isn’t the franchise’s only family connection. All of its locations are run by family.

The Medranos’ Mexican heritage brings another special element to La Mejor de Michoacán. The menu features several Mexican dessert specialties such as a chamoyada, a dessert made with a sorbet-style fruit ice cream topped with lime, chili powder and chamoy, a sauce made from pickled fruit.

La Mejor de Michoacán also serves cajeta, a traditional Mexican ice cream made with thickened syrup produced from caramelized milk. Cajeta is the favorite flavor of Elio Salazar, a Gainesville resident of 24 years and local businessman. He has been frequenting La Mejor de Michoacán since it opened.

“First of all, they make (the ice cream) fresh, so that’s why I come,” Salazar said. “They also have a great staff. I have offices in Gainesville, and the people who work for me come by at least once a week.”

While Perla Medrano is willing to pick a favorite flavor of her business’ products —  strawberry cheesecake — Miguel Medrano refuses to pick among the many varieties he churns out daily, a task which he deeply enjoys.

“I love pistachio, strawberry cheesecake, tamarindo, mint with chocolate, bubble gum — all of them,” he said.



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