By Jessy Yancey
Everyone loves to cool off with a popsicle on a sweltering summer day, but the exotic flavors offered at Las Paletas, a gourmet popsicle shop in Nashville, take frozen treats to another level.
Sure, they’ve got your conventional strawberry ice pops – but these are served alongside more unusual, sophisticated flavors such as pistachio, hibiscus and chocolate with hot peppers.
The list goes on: raspberry lime, coffee, honeydew, Chai tea … even corn. In fact, Las Paletas has offered up more than 100 different flavors over the six years the shop has been open.
Fresh, Local Flavors
“Every day we have different flavors,” says Irma Paz-Bernstein, who owns the shop near downtown with her sister Norma Paz-Curtis. “There’s no menu, because what if there are no pineapples in Nashville? This way, whatever’s ripe, whatever’s in season, that’s what we make.”
In the sisters’ native Mexico, “paletas” refers to popsicles made with fresh ingredients.
“There’s not a formula,” she explains. “Each one is different. We blend, squeeze, chop or puree each special ingredient.”
A Hidden Nashville Treat
Las Paletas has become well known throughout the Nashville area, despite its lack of a sign or advertisements.
“Professors tell me it’s advertising 101. You have to have a sign,” Paz-Bernstein says.
But the sisters’ word-of-mouth method has attracted more customers than any flashing neon. “I want them to come more than once, and for that, they have to be introduced to the phenomenon,” Paz-Bernstein says. “One customer brings somebody and gives them the whole story. It’s not just a stop; it’s the experience.”Customers also play a vital role in expanding the ever-changing menu. Paz-Bernstein added peanut butter treats to the lineup when a young boy asked for them – and he served as her taste tester.
“He was so proud!” she says, adding that the request led to peanut butter-banana, peanut butter-chocolate chip and other flavors.
“We always have opportunities to be creative,” Paz-Bernstein says. “It’s not just fruits and veggies – it’s grains, nuts, flowers. You have one idea, and so many more come pouring out.”
The inspiration for a popular rose-petal popsicle bloomed when the sisters were trying to think of an “edible and romantic” flavor for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. Packaged differently, with some coated in chocolate, the rose-petal paletas practically flew off the shelves. Originally offered exclusively around the holiday, high customer demand made the flavor practically a year-round item.
“Our customers truly run our shop; we just have fun with it,” Paz-Bernstein says. “If you want to be smart, you study. When you want to be wise, you listen.” That kind of mind-set helped to build Las Paletas into the successful business it is today – even attracting attention on a national level.
Food Network Learns From Paletas Pros
In June 2008, Paz-Bernstein appeared on Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, a show in which the celebrity chef surprises a cook renowned for a specific type of dish, challenging them to a “throwdown.” If you’ve watched the episode, you know that the Paz sisters came away on top, dominating Flay’s ice pop challenge.
Despite her brush with fame, Paz-Bernstein remains down-to-earth.
“It’s not how much money you make or how many stores you open,” she says. “We have helped transform the concept of what a treat is. Customers requesting hot pepper or a 4-year-old asking for avocado – it truly touches my heart. That is, for me, true success.”
Where to find and hours of operation:
Las Paletas is located in an unmarked storefront with burgundy awning at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Kirkwood in Nashville, just past Mafiaoza’s Pizza. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. in the summer and noon to 6 p.m. in the winter. Las Paletas’ gourmet popsicles – which cost $2.50 each – can also be found at Fido, Bongo Java and Baja Burrito in Nashville.