While the most obvious physical distinction between SA Pops and a typical raspa stand is air conditioning, the shop has a unique and notable vibe that’s at once homey, eclectic and generally says Southwest-funk-meets-ice-cream-parlor. Piñatas in the shape of iconic frosty desserts hang from the ceiling and patio roof, twirling above indoor and outdoor seating. Just a stone’s throw behind the building one finds the River Road Community Garden, which takes the paleta shop’s organic refuse for composting.
“I always liked ice cream and I always wanted to have my own business, but I’ve always been working,” said SA Pops owner Andrew Gutierrez. “This is something I could do at the same time.”
The SA Pops day begins at 2 p.m., after Gutierrez, 38, a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of San Antonio, finishes teaching for the day. From the early afternoon to 8 or 9 p.m. each night, Gutierrez and his parents, Marina and Silvester Gutierrez, make and serve artisanal paletas, shaved ice, and soft serve ice cream to a steady stream of customers.
In the three months that SA Pops has been open, Gutierrez estimates he’s made 30 flavors of ice pops. The frozen, fruit-flavored treats are delightfully simple in composition: fresh fruit, cut up then pureed with an immersion blender, and simple syrup, made of organic sugar and purified water. Gutierrez adjusts the flavor with lemon, lime, or vanilla.
Seasonal availability naturally plays a role in variety–he made Meyer lemon bars until the season ended, and given the present abundance of ripe avocados and peaches at this time of year, has plans for some sweet green pops and peachy paletas. Flavors also include creamy Mexican chocolate, caramel with rich cajeta and pecan, and the new Big Red and strawberry.
Gutierrez has five metal molds of varying sizes that make 28 treats at a time each. The pricy contraptions come from Brazil and hold around one gallon of mix, depending on the size of the pop. The owner makes the desserts in the evening and freezes them overnight. To speed the process, he has ordered a glycol bath freezer for the shop, which will cut the hardening time from several hours to just 30 minutes.
Gutierrez makes syrup for the shaved ice, mixes flavors for the soft serve and hopes to make his own premium hard ice cream in the future. When the season finally begins to change, SA Pops may begin to serve churros and hot chocolate.
The shop is manned by Gutierrez and his parents both in their early 70s. “It’s just us three,” he said, adding that he hopes to hire a former student soon. “We’re retired,” explained his mother, “my husband and I. We’re just trying to getting him started. It’s expensive to get started.” Laughing, Gutierrez agreed: “You have to pay employees!”
Beyond the obvious appeal of tasty, frozen treats in the heat of a San Antonio summer, it’s the warm, familial vibe of SA Pops that draws in visitors and keeps them coming back. Bloggers and reviewers have lauded the friendly atmosphere, fostered by charming banter between Gutierrez family members and customers. Marina summed it up nicely: “We don’t just want to give you the paleta and go home; we want you to be part of our family here.”
3420 N St Mary’s