Some food is just so good that it stays on your mind long after you’ve tried it. And that was certainly the case for me with Helados Pops Ice Cream in San Fernando. I first tried the family-owned shop’s incredible flavors and sundaes as part of a food blogger event in early 2016, when I first asked owner Marthin Ken to do a Q&A. Of course, life got in the way, but I never forgot Helados — in fact, I’d recall their ice cream every time I had some, or saw Marthin or Damon at a food event, including the EAT Show last year. Their ice cream was definitely one of my favorite eats of 2016.
So one year later, we finally made it happen! I sat down with Marthin and his wife Ade to ask some questions about the history of Helados Pops, their delicious ice cream, and their awesomely unique flavors. All while also indulging in some of Helados’ new avocado flavored ice cream (yup, you read that right, and yes, it totally tastes like avocado in all the best ways), as well as trying their legendary lucuma flavor.
Check out the Q&A below!
Tell me the history of Helados Pops, which is owned and run by you and your family.
Marthin: Ade’s father once owned an ice cream parlor in Los Angeles. I think they brought a concept that was similar to an ice cream parlor in Central America, an ice cream shop that’s in like Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and they kind of brought this concept and he was an accountant for the ice cream shop, he had never made ice cream before.
At night, when his friend who hired him to do the accounting was making ice cream, he would sample it and he didn’t like it. So he started helping him, and he got into it, and said, “If we use real fruit or do this or that.” Sort of started giving him little pointers and eventually he took over production. From accounting went to making ice cream for this ice cream parlor in L.A. on Santa Monica and Vermont.
Ade: He perfected some of the recipes that were there already and brought fruits, created new recipes for fruits that he remembered eating back in El Salvador and that’s a lot of the fruit flavor that you see here that is being created right now. It’s from that memory, that palate that he had, the flavors that he remembered when he was living in El Salvador.
Marthin: To fast forward, he eventually moved on to do something else. He said to my father, Oscar, our co-owner as well, “Hey Oscar, you want to take this over?” So Oscar ran with it and did well, did well for quite some time. I definitely I would say, fast forwarding to the recession, he lost his business and all of that. He was like a one-man show doing production, running the shop, doing deliveries and English not being his first language. I’m sure it was very challenging.
After a couple of years, my idea was, “Hey man, save up your money.” He was still doing some wholesale on the side, selling lucuma to Peruvian restaurants. We decided to say, “Hey, let’s try it again.” More of a joint effort this time.
Now doing this the second time around (and with more of the family involved), were there any lessons learned from the first time that you carry with you?
Marthin: I think that’s kind of where I came in and had this different philosophy of the business. We kept the old name Helados in his honor. My biggest vision when it came to having this ice cream was not having a ceiling on it as far as labeling it a Latin American product.
I looked, a lot of the fruits that he was making already I found out that they grew all over different parts of the world, under different names so I came to him and told him, “Hey Oscar, this is my vision, I don’t think I want to market to it one demographic but bring it to the entire, to different communities and races, backgrounds.” In the end they’re just exotic flavors that grew all over the globe. Coconuts are the same in Latin America, in Thailand.
We have the advantage of using social media now, too. And coming to a community like the city of San Fernando, we’ve had the opportunity to grow with our community and do a lot of community outreach.
Ade: The people here are very proud of this area. They love the new businesses opening and when sadly a business closes it’s heartbreaking for this community. They, from day one, they just, they love us. They’re so welcoming and loyal.
How do you come up with new flavors and where do you go for inspiration?
Marthin: We have our niche, which is exotic fruits, and they’re not easily obtainable. We work with the distributors that bring in these exotic fruits and once in a while they’ll say, “Hey, you know what, I have jack fruit, I’m going to be getting it in a month.” And I’m like, “Yes, by all means, bring it. We want to test it out, we want to make ice cream.”
Apart from the fruits, the exotic fruits like for the avocado ice cream that we’re eating right now that’s just seeing today’s trends, again using social media as a tool, not indirectly where you can see, “Wow. You know what, people really really love avocado toast. Let’s try to make a flavor that’s somewhat similar to that or can give you that, you know, again recreate that memory, something that you are used to. What you’re used to eating and trying to recreate for you in a dessert.”
Ade: Marthin is the number one flavor creator. That avocado toast thing I was like, “What?” It’s my favorite right now. It’s so good. At one point I was like, “I need to try it.” And it’s delicious. They work hand in hand with my Dad and that’s how this was created. He comes up with different flavors. You created a bunch of different flavors.
What is your most popular flavor?
Marthin: We get that question a lot and I always say, not to be biased, but we really don’t have one. We have something for every different palate. Some people like traditional stuff, as delicious as these exotic fruits, and people are like, “I’m a classic man, I’m going to have my vanilla and my strawberry.” So whenever people walk in, if you’re a new customer I always say, “Try our strawberry first.” Because it’s a flavor that’s a classic flavor but yet nobody gets excited for anymore. Again, we’re not doing anything revolutionary, it’s really going back to the way strawberry ice cream used to be made back in the day. People taste that, get a taste of the texture, get a sense of what strawberry actually should be and then they’re like, “Okay, this is good.” This is a flavor everybody can relate to.