When it’s 96 degrees out there, brain freeze seems a small price to pay for the delicious chill of ice cream in your mouth. From traditional ice cream sundaes and raspas to frozen yogurts and Italian ices, everyone in the Valley is willing to wrap themselves around a frozen treat once summer arrives. Be thankful your choices are limitless.
Red Mango Frozen Yogurt is the new kid in the Valley when it comes to chilling out. Decorated in red and chocolate tiles, with the smell of fresh fruit perfuming the air, the Red Mango shops have acted like a magnet for the overheated. Last August, Analia Lemus opened her first Red Mango frozen yogurt franchise in Brownsville and followed that with a McAllen store in December. Both are self-serve operations, which allow customer’s imaginations to run wild as they mix frozen yogurt flavors, such as original, mango, pomegranate and dark chocolate, and then sprinkle them with dozens of toppings.
“People like self-serve more,” said Lemus. “It’s fun putting it together yourself.”
Lemus became a Red Mango aficionado when the first store opened in Mission last year. “It’s addicting. I used to go five times a week,” she said.
Captivated, Lemus, who has retail and management experience, decided to open her own stores, completed franchise training in New York in July, and secured Red Mango rights for Cameron and Hidalgo Counties.
“I went with this because I am passionate about the product.” She is also health conscious and guilt-free because Red Mango is made from fermented non-fat yogurt, has no artificial sweeteners, is gluten-free and a serving contains about 100 calories. Signs demonstrate how to build a yogurt parfait.
“We have an amazing product,” said Lemus, between offering yogurt samples and greetings to customers as they streamed into the North Tenth Street store. “I make friends all the time. The quality of customer service is so important to me as an owner, and the kids who work here all know it. I want the person who comes in to become a regular.”
The Red Mango store in McAllen will be the training center as Lemus opens more stores. It is also a test site for new frozen yogurt flavors.
In contrast, Ol’ D’s Soda Shop and Restaurant in downtown Harlingen is nostalgia on ice, complete with a marble soda fountain counter (rescued from Raymondville Nease’s Drug Store), vintage glass tulip bowls for sundaes and live 50’s and 60’s music with a touch of country on weekends.
“This is one of the coolest places in south Texas,” said owner Dave Phinney. “We’re finding out people come in for the magic of the place.”
He has often seen three generations of a family slide onto the red-swivel stools and order root beer floats (served in large frosted mugs) and banana splits (served in old-fashioned glass boats his mother bought for 50 cents from a former ice cream parlor.)
Ol’ D’s sells only vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream.
“That’s as old fashioned as you can get. We don’t have 40 flavors. We tell everybody that the world stops at the door,” Phinney noted. “You don’t have to be in a hurry here.”
People settle in to have fun together talking and remembering. The décor of vintage neon, old tin signs and memorabilia of earlier eras is reflected in the long, soda shop mirror facing the marble counter. At the moment sundaes, shakes and treats are not made in front of you but back in the kitchen. The old marble counter (in a 1930s’s Harlingen drug store before it went to Raymondville) did not come with a fountain set-up, so Phinney is searching for a soda shop fountain with a story.
Although Ol’ D’s expanded its menu to lunch plates and Friday night specials, it is the ice cream that draws the crowds.
“We expect to do as much in ice cream as we do in food,” said the owner, who performs with his parents at the shop on weekends. “Our goal this summer is to be a place where kids can come hang out, behave and relax. This is a place Dad can bring the kids.”
The red Dairy Queen sign has been nicknamed the “Texas stop sign,” for all the people who take it as a signal to pull over for soft-serve treats and Blizzards. Rob Bowen’s father opened his first franchise in 1972 and the boy grew up in the business, buying his own franchise in 1989.
“Ice cream sales double in the summer months. We gauge it by the gallons we go through. We increase staff by 30 percent for warmer months,” said Bowen, who operates three mid-Valley DQs.
Winter Texans don’t notice the Valley’s chill and keep Dairy Queen sales higher than they would otherwise be. The favorite method of chilling out, year round, is the Blizzard said Bowen, although banana splits, ice cream cakes and dip cones have plenty of fans too.
Blue Bell Ice Cream has been called the truly Texas ice cream. Fruit and nut ice cream flavors sell better in the Valley than elsewhere in Texas, according to Jenny Anderson of Blue Bell.
“Frozen novelties (ice cream sandwiches, etc.) sold in supermarkets and convenience stores trend higher in this part of Texas, too.” And since many parts of Texas get even hotter than the Valley, the border area mirrors state consumption patterns. “Bass Pro is one of the top-selling three gallon accounts (selling by the scoop) in the Valley and Davey Jones in Port Isabel is unique,” she added.
The top three Blue Bell flavors are homemade vanilla, cookies ‘n cream and banana nut.
So, when the raspa stands are doing a booming business in every Valley town, and the lines get long at the neighborhood ice cream shop, keep cool and dream about the flavor you’ll chill with today, tomorrow and the day after.
Cover story by Eileen Mattei