If Kennett Square had a Kodak Picture Spot, it would be at La Michoacana Homemade Ice Cream. Every spring, like magic, the shades go up, word spreads, and ice cream smiles welcome the warmer weather. Legions of loyal locals know how lucky they are to have the renowned and award-winning ice cream on their doorstep. This is the ice cream favored by celebrities, connoisseurs, and at least one vice president—many of whom travel hours for a taste of La Michoacana’s creamy deliciousness.
Like the sweet and spicy chamoyada—a refreshing combination of water ice, chamoy sauce, spiced tamarind candy, and chili powder—Noelia Scharon’s story is infused with international flavors. She was born in Puerto Rico, and at 13 she came with her parents and siblings to West Chester, where she embraced a new culture and language. She married at 15, and by 21 she was divorced with three children. She raised her sons while working two jobs, including one at a mushroom company, bought her house in Kennett Square, and managed to earn her GED along the way.
A Delicious Opportunity
On a trip to Michoacán, Mexico with friends in 2002, Scharon fell in love—with ice cream in its sweet, tropical, and distinctively Latino form. She knew people here would love this ice cream too. So she asked the owners of a shop called La Michoacana to teach her how to make it. Thanks to their generosity, she returned with this expertise as well as the necessary equipment and 15 recipes. They asked only that she name her shop after theirs. “Michoacán is very well known for its ice cream,” Scharon explains. “People from Mexico see the name and know it’s the best.”
I Didn’t Want to Have to Go
All the Way to Mexico for Ice Cream!
Scharon never imagined she would make ice cream. “My dream was to be a nurse and care for seniors,” she says. “But I know a good opportunity.” She also admits to a slightly selfish motive. “I didn’t want to have to go all the way to Mexico for ice cream!”
Together with her partners, Manuel and Martha Rodriguez and Juvenal Gonzalez, Scharon seized this opportunity. The growing business now includes a wholesale arm, more products (including their taste-of-summer handcrafted popsicles and water ice), and fresh new flavors every summer. La Michoacana features 36 flavors daily, rotating from a list of over 100. Customer requests, Scharon says, spark ideas for many of the new flavors.
Our Location has Made Us What We Are—
Although space is tight, and ice cream is made on the premises from early morning to past midnight, Scharon credits La Michoacana’s sweet success to being in the heart of Kennett Square. “Our location has made us what we are—it’s perfect,” she says. She’s also grateful for the support of local businesses, including restaurants that send their guests to La Michoacana for dessert.
In 2011, the partners opened Michoacana Grill. The late Thomas Macaluso knew Gonzalez dreamed of owning a taqueria and wanted the Michoacana team to have first refusal on buying the building he owned at the corner of Union and Cypress. The grill complements other Mexican eateries by offering fresh, authentic food—fast. “When people are hungry, they want to eat now,” says Scharon.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, Scharon and her nephew, Tony Nieves, opened Tropical Homemade Ice Cream in 2016 to bring La Michoacana ice cream to happy customers in West Chester. While some flavors, such as the number-one-all-time-favorite corn, are popular in both stores, Scharon says each town has distinct tastes. Some flavors that fly out of the shop in Kennett are not as much in demand in West Chester—and vice versa. Careful inventory control adds to Scharon’s challenge as she does the bookkeeping for all three businesses. All of the partners work many long hours, but Scharon says they’re blessed with the best employees—and between scoops her employees look up, smile, and say they have the best job and the best boss.
A Zest for Life
Sweet Memory, one of Michoacana’s signature flavors combining coconut and strawberry shortcake, is a quintessential example of ice cream alchemy. Every Sunday after church in Puerto Rico, Scharon’s father bought strawberries and cream ice cream and coconut cake. And, though she would travel many miles and many years before creating her first official ice cream flavor, his young daughter mixed them together. Scharon smiles and wipes away tears as she shares the story. Her father passed away when she was a teenager, less than a year after moving his family to Pennsylvania, but the creamy, sweet confection in his honor captures the joy of cherished times with loved ones.
When the shop closes each October, Scharon heads to her condo in Florida. Through the winter she spends time with her son Tito, visits ice cream shops, “making sure our ice cream is still the best anywhere,” and scouts ideas for new flavors.
She’s enjoying spending the kind of time with her sons that she couldn’t when they were younger. Their recent adventures include white-water rafting and sky-diving. “They keep me young,” she says. Tito, Andres, and David are all proud of their mom and her accomplishments, though they like to tease her about having to work for free in the days before they had machines to squeeze limes and peel mangoes. Scharon is looking forward to becoming a grandmother early next year—and she’s waiting for her “knight in shining armor” to come along and sweep her off her feet!
Scharon knows that the long hours and hard work are worth it when she sees all of her customers—from different generations, different countries, and all walks of life—walking out the door with smiles, creating new sweet memories.