As we get deeper into life amid a pandemic, simple pleasures are sweeter: a beautiful summer afternoon, a cooler morning with rain falling, an exceptionally friendly server who beams sincerity even though you can’t see his smile behind a mask.
And ice cream.
There are plenty of places to get it, but an exceptional one is Azúcar Ice Cream Co. in Bishop Arts, led by a woman who also speaks with sincere friendliness, whether that was on a farm tour last fall, getting pastries from Katherine Clapner over the winter or speaking about maintaining a business during a pandemic last week.
In two weeks, the Cuban-inspired ice cream shop will mark its second year in Dallas. It’s the second location for Suzy Batlle, who opened her first one in Little Havana of Miami in 2011.
She’s been splitting her time between the two states and is doing so while navigating rules, regulations and safety for the business in two different environments.
A priority for Batlle from the start was to keep every employee on the payroll. So from the start of the pandemic in Dallas, Azúcar remained open, doing contactless deliveries and pickup. At that point it was “doing OK,” especially as more things started to open. The only thing is, as that movement happens, regulations keep evolving.
“It changes by the minute: You listen to the news, then we put everything in place, all of these regulations and rules every other day,” she says. “So right now, we almost had a part where masks were recommended, and now masks are required.”
So you now must enter while wearing a mask (and if you’re one of those still holding out for some heinous reason, here are some reasons to keep one on your face while in public).
Also at Azúcar, only two groups at a time can be inside — and by group, she means just one person or one small group — one in front of the ice cream counter and the other around the corner at the register.
Through the display that shows you the pans of ice cream flavors, you’ll see some expected flavors, but go ahead and gravitate to some different ones. Try the rosemary-olive oil, for instance. It’s a clean and light scoop that really makes for the perfect snack on a summer afternoon. And yes, it does taste the way it sounds, and it works.
Or try the abuela Maria ice cream with guava, cream cheese and crackers. Or just the plain guava — have you had guava ice cream? It’s this writer’s favorite. And it’s especially good here, which is a good thing since the ingredients require a lot out of Batlle. Fruits and vegetables in the ice cream come from Florida. Batlle sources them there, freezes them, then personally brings them to Dallas.
“These are fruits that you’re never going to get in Dallas because they’re only grown here," she said. "The Florida guava is never going to taste anything like one you’d have in Texas. It’s pretty special."
Same goes for the mangoes she’s bringing.
“What makes our ice cream special is, we’re artisans and we invent new flavors all the time. I just made a watermelon-mint because I saw a wonderful watermelon at the market,” she said. “That’s the fun part, is we can see what’s out there and we can make whatever we want to make. That’s why [the menu is] always changing.”
People can walk into the Bishop Arts store and try the flavors for themselves. Try by getting a scoop: For safety reasons there are no tastings right now. It’s just getting people through the door in the first place that’s still a struggle.
“[Customers’] support really makes a difference, especially people in small businesses that are struggling day by day until this is over. It’s very difficult to keep their doors open. We’re not the other guys who are open when it’s convenient. I’m open every day. That’s a big difference, especially for the community,” Batlle said. “I don’t just open on the weekends and forget about the kids that work there and what they need to make ... we’re making payroll every day.”
Meanwhile, her first store in Miami is a little more complicated.
“It’s even harder in Little Havana," she said. "I’m in a tourist-driven area, so there are no tourists. They’re not opening the bars, so without the bars, I’m the only person open in Little Havana.”
Batlle raised a worry many in the industry have shared, both on and off record, about the impact of the coronavirus.
“What it is doing for small businesses is, it’s killing us … In our eyes, big business is allowed to stay big and make money and small business is slowly deteriorating,” she said. “I think small business is what makes the United States go 'round, and we’re the ones getting killed in this.”
So, yes, buying scoops of ice cream for family members on a random afternoon can have more of an impact than satiating your sweet tooth. And what better way to do both than trying a new flavor while you’re at it?
Azúcar Ice Cream Co., 269 N. Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District). Open noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; noon to 10 p.m. Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
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