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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

This Jefferson Park Paleteria Almost Called It Quits Due To The Pandemic And A Robbery — But It’s Back Thanks To Neighborhood Support

The family-owned ice cream shop El Sabor la Michoacanita is working to add new menu items and signs to attract customers ahead of summer. "It has been really, really difficult to stay afloat, but here we are."

Ana Romero (left) and her husband Jorge Gonzales own El Sabor la Michoacanita, 4442 N. Milwaukee Ave. with help from their daughter Yarely Gonzales (center).
Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
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JEFFERSON PARK — El Sabor la Michoacanita saw a difficult year of business due to the pandemic and an armed robbery that temporarily closed the Jefferson Park ice cream shop — but it’s finally seeing increased foot traffic thanks to community support and nice weather.

The Mexican paleteria, or ice cream shop, at 4442 N. Milwaukee Ave. is a favorite for families and people who want a fresh fruit or ice cream snack. It opened in 2019 and is owned by Ana Romero and her husband, Jorge Gonzales, who are from Mexico.

Like many small businesses, the pandemic hit the shop hard, Romero said, but the owners experienced an extra hit when the store was robbed at gunpoint in October. The couple, shaken physically and emotionally, closed the shop for a few months.

Romero said she wasn’t sure if they were going to reopen due to lingering fear from the robbery and low sales from the pandemic. But the local community and nearby business owners convinced the couple to remain open, reminding them of their love for selling homemade treats.

“We are so thankful to the community,” Romero said in Spanish. “There isn’t a way to give back the emotional support we received, to see the good heart that the community has.”

El Sabor la Michoacanita reopened in late 2020, but customers were still not comfortable coming into the shop, Romero said. They relied mostly on pickup orders, which were less frequent. For the past few months, the business has only been able to pay its utility bills and rent.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
El Sabor la Michoacanita at 4442 N. Milwaukee Ave in Jefferson Park is a favorite for families and individuals who want a fresh fruit or ice cream snack.

Romero, who took over ownership last year from her brother, said the shop is only recently seeing a boost in sales. They hope to make a profit again as more customers feel comfortable coming inside or ordering to go.

“It has been really, really difficult to stay afloat, but here we are because we put a lot of love into what we do,” she said. “We like what we do and to serve people and to create new menu items.”

With summer around the corner and warm weather this week, the family is hopeful better times are coming and the community will visit the shop and spread the word about its desserts.

Gonzales said it’s sad to see and hear about other local business that have closed because of the pandemic, but it gives him the strength to keep working hard so their shop isn’t added to the list.

“We are still here,” Gonzales said. “It’s been difficult to handle, but we are trying to survive the moment.”

Their 16-year-old daughter, Yarely Gonzales, has been an important element in surviving the pandemic, her mother said. Yarely Gonzales works at the shop and has kept up morale during the difficult months and after the robbery.

Yarely Gonzalez also increased the shop’s social media presence, took phone orders, did deliveries and did curbside pickup.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
Yarely Gonzales, who works with her family at El Sabor la Michoacanita in Jefferson Park, prepares a mango dessert April 27, 2021.

Yarely Gonzales — who wants to take over the business one day — said she’s starting to see regulars return, and she’s even met new customers. Like her parents, she is hopeful summer will bring increased business.

“It feels wonderful having all these people supporting us and making us feel together in community,” she said. “I feel the support they give us and the amazing comments.”

The family said they are prepping new menu items and plan to update the shop’s interior and exterior to attract customers. 

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) stopped into the shop over the weekend and called the business “a hidden gem” on his Facebook page. Romero said his visit was appreciated and the store saw more customers come in after he posted about it.

“I’m grateful he offered his support to get more people to come from Jefferson and Portage Park,” she said of the alderman’s visit.

With new security cameras, more precautions and locking the door when it gets dark, the paleteria owners feel confident in persevering on their small business journey.

“We have a lot of faith that this year we will have more work and push us more to take care of our customers and deliver a quality product and that they feel at home,” Romero said. “We know it will be different, but we hope for more customers and more motivation.”

People who do not wish to enter the store can still call for pickup at 312-937-7368.

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