Every time a new business opens, I get excited, but when a new business is opened by a young, entrepreneurial Latino couple, I’m thrilled. When I first moved to Des Moines, there were not that many Latino restaurants or places to go to, but after twenty years, I can now eat my favorite food without killing myself in the kitchen.
That’s why when I heard a friend talking about a new Gourmet Popsicle “Paleteria” shop in Clive, I couldn’t wait to go try them and meet this wonderful couple.
Originally from Colombia, Jose Jacome, 37, moved to Chicago with his parents and three siblings when he was only 12 years old. He graduated from Northeastern University with a Business degree. Jose moved to Des Moines six years ago when U.S Cellular offered him a position in Iowa.
“At that time, I decided to moved because I was single and I didn’t have anything holding me back in Chicago, and I thought that I was going to stay here for only two years and moved back home,” Jacome said. But once he moved here, he fell in love with Iowa and its people.
Born and raised in Chicago from Mexican parents, Fatima Esparza, 28, attended Moraine Valley Community College and also got her business degree. Following Jose, Esparza moved to Des Moines two years after, marrying him a few months after. Fatima grew up in the “paleteria business,” since her parents own a paleteria back home for more than twenty years, so her dream was always to open her own Paleteria.
“Two years ago we started talking about opening our business, with the idea of opening it this year; of course we didn’t know anything about COVID-19 at that time,” she said.
They wanted to sell paletas with the idea of sharing a Mexican tradition in Iowa, using a high-quality product with a different concept, with flavors that many people haven’t tried, and the option of adding flavors that people are more used to. The end goal was to offer Iowans a totally new experience.
“For us is important that every time our clients come back, they can have a different experience since we offer many options of how you can eat a paleta or Popsicle,” said Esparza.
They planned for a long time, even traveling to different places like California and Florida to get ideas and see what works and what doesn’t, and the result of that research is wonderful. The small shop in Clive, located on the corner of 100th St/Valley West Dr. and University Ave., is beautiful.
Initially, they planned to open at the beginning of the year, but unfortunately, COVID-19 came, so they waited until August 4.
Having the experience of being at the Monarca Paleteria and talking to Jose and Fatima, one question stuck in my mind: what are you going to do during the winter, when there are going to be more ice outside than in the Paleteria? Jose explained that they are going to add different products that can attract their clientele during those months.
Asking Jose how as an immigrant and a transplant from Chicago he thinks they contribute to not only Iowa’s economy, but culturally he told me, “The first day we opened, we had a line of people outside, and we sold out our product, except for one flavor which was passion fruit (maracuya in Spanish) with condensed milk because many people didn’t know the flavor. But since they were already here and waited in line, they ended up buying it and loved it, to the point that in the following days that was the flavor that will sell before anything else. Our clients were kind of force to try a brand new flavor and they just fall in love with it, so it is great to be able to diversify our clients taste buds through our food and traditions.”
Monarca is also contributing to Iowa’s economy by employing five people, a very diverse workforce, including workers that are African American, Mexican, Caucasian, and Venezuelan, because they want to represent whoever they want to serve, which is way more diverse than most businesses. All the employees are young students, so for many of them, this is a great experience.
Even with five employees, Fatima is the only one making all the paletas throughout the day with fresh fruits, no paleta is more than a day old, everything is fresh.
Before finishing the interview, I had to ask why use the Monarca (Monarch) name.
“The Monarca butterflies migrate from Canada and USA every winter, stopping in Iowa on their way to Mexico. Michoacan holds the largest migration of Monarch butterflies,” Jose explained. “For us it is important to represent that migration as a way to say that the butterflies go to Mexico and comes back with traditions, flavors, and folklore as part of that migration path, which is our story as immigrants, and also be able to share tradition and culture through a paleta.”
I am amazed by this place because you can feel that everything in there is well thought out and made with dedication and love. Of course I had to try one of their pistachio paletas and it was delicious, my entire family became big fans.
I never thought that a popsicle or paleta would have so much meaning behind it – there’s something poetic and magic about this small shop. The meaning of the Monarca name represents the story of so many of us, migrating to this country, bringing and sharing our traditions and culture with us.
If you want to try something delicious, different and support local businesses please stop by the Monarca Paleteria. Their webiste is www.monarcapaletas.com.
by Claudia Thrane
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