In July we celebrate ice cream all month long in the U.S. We had a special treat speaking with Suzanne Batlle, founder of Azucar Ice Cream. Batlle started AzucarIce Cream Company back in 2011 and the business has been growing ever since. Suzanne specializes in serving traditional Cuban ice cream and treats in both Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood and in Dallas, Texas.
A lightly edited version of our conversation follows.
Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF): What’s your business situation today compared to when we talked last fall?
Suzanne Batlle, founder, Azucar Ice Cream, “Well, thank God we’re busier. Tourists are back in Miami, thank goodness. With tourism back we’re getting the same influx that we always get here, and we are turning 10-years-old this July. So, July 29th is our 10th birthday, and we are super excited.”
CRF: Last year you mentioned transitioning to mail order delivery during the pandemic. Have you been able to retain that as another source of income as recovery starts to happen?
“Absolutely. It’s something we never did before. We handle our delivery service through another company and have gotten the most delivery requests from California and Michigan. A new flavor of ours celebrating our brothers and sisters in Cuba recently went viral and is gaining more attention, so we have to add it to the delivery roster as people are now requesting it in other states.”
CRF: How did the PPP loan help you transition your business while you had capacity issues and limitations?
“The PPP loan kept us alive. We were able to use it immediately in Dallas and Miami. I lost all our tourists during the pandemic. Our Miami and Dallas locations are both really tourist driven. Both locations are inside of thriving neighborhoods. The PPP loan that we got from CRF allowed us to focus on the neighborhoods where people would get to know us in a different way. Thank goodness now those are our new clients.”
CRF: It sounds like you’re emerging strong from the pandemic.
“Absolutely! Our numbers are almost back to what they used to be and in reality, I think that in July we’re going to surpass what we used to do. That would be very exciting for us. In Dallas, we actually picked up a hotel and they order ice cream, and they also have a food hall where they are serving our ice cream as well. That is an entire wholesale account that we picked up during the pandemic.”
CRF: We know that your business holds a lot of meaning, personally what does ice cream mean to you?
“Whenever I think of ice cream, I have to smile. We had ice cream every day as children, I didn’t realize that not every kid had ice cream every day. I just thought every kid did since I did. Our family was a big ice cream family. My grandmother made ice cream in Cuba, South America, and Central America because she traveled a lot as my grandfather was a sugar mill engineer. With that being said, we got to Miami and what do we have every day? Of course, ice cream. It got to the point where I ended up as a banker for 20 years. The banking industry plummeted in 2008 and I was out of a job.
My children were the first ones that suggested I open an ice cream company. At first, I didn’t think it was possible, but then I said, you know what? Maybe I can do this, but my grandmother didn’t teach me to make ice cream. I needed to learn how to make ice cream, so I went to college and took a short course on how to make ice cream.”
CRF: What is your most requested ice cream flavor?
“Our most requested ice cream flavor is probably the most Cuban of all ice creams, and it’s called Abuela Maria, abuela is the word for grandmother in Spanish. Our Abuela Maria is popular because most people have a grandmother named Maria. It’s made with guava, cream cheese, and Maria crackers. It is considered to be a Cuban delicacy.
We love to have it as a snack with a coffee at around four o’clock. We take a Maria cracker, slice a piece of guava and a piece of cream cheese, then we put it all together eat it. We decided why don’t we put that into ice cream? How awesome would that be? Now it is absolutely the most popular ice cream that we have.”
CRF: Could you share a little bit about the process of making ice cream?
“I mean, it’s very labor intensive believe it or not. Making ice cream is like a workout. You know, what’s the best part of ice cream? Making new flavors and everything that goes into the process can be fun. We just made a jolly rancher cherry sorbet. It is amazing! It tastes exactly like a jolly rancher. So that’s the play that we get to do here all the time at my company.”
CRF: How often do you create new flavors?
“All the time. People will say to me I love beets. Okay let’s make some beet flavored ice cream. We incorporate beets into the ice cream with a little bit of chocolate and another one with a little bit of orange. Then we send it out. If people like it, we continue to make it. We’re always in that process of trying to come up with something great.”
CRF: Is there an ice cream flavor you regret serving?
“Some that aren’t that popular that we’ve played around with. I made a tomato ice cream once, people liked it, but it just wasn’t my thing. We made chicken and waffles ice cream, which was very popular, but we stopped making it. I think that the customers like to see something new all the time, they don’t really like coming in and seeing the same thing.
In Texas there’s an orchard that we go to and pick all the peaches. When we get the peaches, we make peach sorbet, peach ice cream and peaches and cream. That’s a lot of fun to do.
We take something from each place and highlight it. Right now, we are highlighting mangoes since it’s mango season. We’re getting mangoes and making sure they’re ripe and turning them into mango ice cream. We like to play around with the flavors as if we’re chemists to make sure that each batch tastes the same. It depends on the fruit, whether they’re sweet, sour, and consider their ripeness.”
CRF: Have you ever recognized National Ice Cream Day as part of Azucar Ice Cream?
“Yes, we have done national ice cream day before. This whole month we want to celebrate ice cream especially since it’s our birthday.”
We are very excited to celebrate this July with ice cream treats. Happy 10th year anniversary to Azucar Ice Cream Company! Find out more about traditional Cuban ice cream and treats by visiting their website. And no matter where you are in the United States, you can get a taste of Azucar Ice Cream through Goldbelly.