Tucked in the corner of the Fruitvale Village Market complex, a former Masonic Temple, sits Nieves Cinco de Mayo. Inconspicuous amongst neighboring shops, a culinary rainbow of ice cream flavor awaits, from sharp spearmint and almond-brown chocolate to deep magenta dragon fruit (pataya), a sweet spiky fruit native to Mexico and Central America.
Guadalupe Abundis, at 83-years old, hands guava-flavored ice cream to one of her many customers out on the patio. She may not understand English but she greets everyone who walks in with her warm smile that is just high enough to peek above the ice cream counter.
“I always say that resting is for the dead,” said Abundis, whose son, Luis Abundis, owns the shop. “Ice cream making has become our family’s labor of love.”
The Abundis family offers more than ten flavors, all of which are stirred by hand and frozen in a device that is nothing more than a metal and wood bucket. Abundis calls his ice cream nieves artesanales de garrafa, or artisan ice cream and sorbet.
“Ever since Luis was a child he liked hanging out with the ice cream man of our city in Mexico…one day he asked the ice cream man to teach him how to make the hand made ice cream,” said Mrs. Abundis, as she watched her son stir a massive spoon paddle inside the wood bucket.
Some of the flavors include rose petal, garlic, rice, spearmint, fresh corn and hawthorn, along with the more traditional vanilla, strawberry and coffee. Unlike gelato, Abundis’ ice cream has a chunky texture, but is soft enough to taste the sweetness.
“Luis brings me a little piece of Jalisco [a state in Mexico] that I have not visited in 15 years… As a teenager I visited the ice cream place where he learned to make the ice cream,” said Maria Davalos, a regular customer.
Abundis, a single father, said he did not begin his business to become a rich man, but to help send his three daughters to college. Luckily, his mother was available to lend a helping hand.
“I get bored sitting around my house in Mexico,” she said. “I would rather be here helping my son and see my granddaughters go to college.”
Before he opened Nieves Cinco de Mayo, Abundis started out with a small snow cone stand on International Blvd. Just as he is known for his ice cream today, his original and unique snow cone flavors were just as famous. He continues to sell snow cones; one of the most popular is diablitos, which contains powdered chili.
“Many elementary school classrooms from our area come and Luis teaches them how he makes the ice cream,” said Mrs. Abundis, as she pointed to a photograph of her son with a third grade class gather around him and the ice cream inside the barrel.
Restaurants, businesses and parties now hire Abundis to hand make ice cream live at events. His clients especially enjoy the demonstration where he pours tequila into the barrel and makes tequila ice cream.
“I pour just enough to taste the flavor…but people get excited and start screaming that I should pour more,” said Abundis. “It’s entertaining.”