The Frozen Kings of Coral Gables

A Quartet of Latin American Entrepreneurs is Taking Their Coral Gables Success with Frozen Treats Across South Florida – and Beyond

By Doreen Hemlock

June 2018

With its smiley-face logo based on a traditional Mexican doll, Morelia Gourmet Paletas looks like a snazzy neighborhood ice-cream shop. But it’s more than just a hip Miracle Mile locale making handcrafted popsicles. 

Founded by three executives from Procter & Gamble and run by an experienced software project manager, the business has been carefully planned. And it’s now expanding beyond its home base in Coral Gables. 

Morelia’s four partners studied the art of fruit-pop making in Mexico, surveyed how Mexican paletas went gourmet in Brazil, and took classes in gelato, sorbet and ice-cream making in Italy, Argentina and other countries. They then applied their corporate know-how and refined the details at the Miracle Mile shop that opened in late 2016. 

The results were immediate: From sales of 4,600 paletas its first December, it now averages 13,000 monthly, with spikes in the summer. 

“Nothing is improvised,” said Gilbert Arismendi, partner and general manager. There’s even attention to how the treat hits the tongue: not freezing or icy, but cool and refreshing with rich texture. “We want to do this for the long-term and get the right culture from the get-go.” 

Gilbert Arismendi, partner and general manager of Paletas Morelia

In November, Morelia debuted at a mall in Winter Garden near Orlando. This May, it launched in Miami’s Wynwood. Later this year, it plans outlets at Aventura mall and in Surfside, plus one at a Fort Myers mall in southwest Florida. 

An associate in Dominican Republic this spring opened the first Morelia in that Caribbean nation and plans more there – part of a larger push overseas, Arismendi says. 

The founders chose the Morelia name to honor the capital of Mexico’s Michoacan state, known as the birthplace for paletas. Some say the treats earned their Spanish moniker for their shape as little shovels. 

At the Coral Gables locale, Margarita Mesones is a frequent customer, sometimes visiting daily. She suffers from an ailment that makes it hard to eat many foods. But she finds Morelia’s paletas so clean and natural – their sugar content so low – that she can easily digest them. 

Among her favorites: the top-selling flavor cookies-and-cream, dipped in white chocolate. Sometimes, she enjoys them as dinner. “This is the only sweet stuff I can eat that doesn’t make me sick,” said the 41-year-old paralegal who lives nearby. 

The cookies and cream paleta

Cookies-and-cream takes the longest to make. To spread the cookies evenly, every paleta is produced in stages, with crumbles placed on each layer and then frozen, a process repeated five or six times. 

Some customers finish off the popsicles with a “s’mores” treatment: dipped in marshmallow, toasted with a flame and then topped with graham crackers. 

This is the only sweet stuff I can eat that doesn’t make me sick…

Margarita Mesones, customer

Like most gourmet foods, Morelia’s paletas don’t come cheap: $4.65 each, plus toppings starting at 50 cents and dippings at 75 cents. But quality ingredients cost, too: fresh berries, tropical fruits, nutella, Italian chocolate, among others, all prepared without adding artificial colorings or flavors and without gelato mix. 

The Coral Gables shop now produces all the paletas for Florida, using refrigerated trucks to transport them. Expansion in the state means staff on Miracle Mile likely will keep growing, already up from about six employees a year ago to more than a dozen now, says Arismendi. 

The venture exemplifies “glocal,” a mix of global and local. The founding trio met in Brazil but came from Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela. They reached out to the Venezuelan’s friend, Arismendi, who was living in Florida. He helped fine tune recipes for local ingredients, including sweeter strawberries and less creamy milk. 

“Although new to being entrepreneurs, the discipline learned in a corporate environment for so long was extremely helpful,” says Arismendi, 37, who used his software skills to ensure strong business processes. 

But corporate backgrounds were of little concern to Mesones, as she picked up paletas to go on a recent weekday. “The quality, the freshness,” she says, “I love it.” 

Morelia Paletas cost $4.65