There’s welcome shade on the patio where a line begins to form every afternoon and lasts into the evening, stretching to the sidewalk of a busy two-lane stretch of West Hildebrand Avenue. Even then, it can be steamy warm most days.
Yet customers wait patiently knowing their reward is a refreshing mangonada, fruity shaved ice, chile powder-topped melon, or creamy paleta displayed on the wall adjacent an old barber shop at Las Nieves Fruit Cups & More.
With temperatures hitting triple digits this weekend – oh hello, summer – this one of two Las Nieves locations might be the hottest spot in town to cool off.
Open on Blanco Road since 2001, and Hildebrand since 2009, Las Nieves is owned by brothers Carlos and Jorge Flores, who came to San Antonio from their hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1988. Among the many first jobs they held was one driving pushcarts of paletas for their uncle Jose Flores, owner of El Paraiso Ice Cream, a place locally famous for the frozen fruit bars.
During a return visit to Mexico, Carlos Flores hit upon the idea to sell fruit cups and Italian-style ices in San Antonio out of an ice cream truck. He and his brother soon began working opposite sides of the street and selling their treats until they found a following.
As people began to appreciate the difference between natural fruit shaved ices and a syrupy raspa, or snow cone, the Flores brothers saved enough to eventually open the small fruteria stand at Blanco and Basse roads.
All-natural lime ices and six other flavors came first, all made in a garage at his home using a machine he had picked up in Mexico. Today, Las Nieves produces 15 flavors – from coconut to cucumber and tamarind to piña loca.
They opened the larger Hildebrand location eight years later with a loan from Security Service Federal Credit Union. Most banks turned them down, on a principle of not lending to restaurants, Flores said, but the credit union was persuaded to take a chance on Las Nieves after he delivered a selection of Italian ices to the bank.
Difficulty getting financing only motivated Flores more, he said. These days, average sales at the front counter net Las Nieves about $2,000 in cold cash. But that’s not the only money-maker in this enterprise.
Last Thursday, when the Rivard Report spoke with Flores, a steady stream of trucks and vans backed up to the side entrance of the shop, next to the life-size statues of the “Las Nieves Yeti” and tiger. Men came with ice chests, freezers, and orders for Las Nieves’ four-gallon buckets of Italian ice that they would sell at their own fruterias, ice cream trucks, and pushcarts.
Since the store began selling buckets to other vendors in 2012, Las Nieves has earned wholesale customers from as far as Dallas, Houston, El Paso, and towns between. Flores has helped at least 30 other fruteria businesses get off the ground here – a divine calling, he said, that makes him and his brother feel good about themselves and their work.
To run the operation Tuesday through Sunday, the Flores brothers alternate 72-hour-weeks so they can spend time with their families, and rely on the efforts of just 10 employees at both locations.
Inside the small Las Nieves factory, workers slice and dice tropical fruits, and make the Italian ices, aguas frescas, eight flavors of ice cream, and cream for the strawberries. Others serve customers at two windows in the front of the store where Carlos Flores himself worked the first 10 years the store was open.
In back, hundreds of filled buckets are stacked according to flavor in one of two walk-in freezers, and boxes of fruit are stored in a walk-in cooler. Between those, 22 more industrial-size chest freezers, pallets of limes, mango, and pineapple, and boxes of chamoy seasoning pile up in the small fabrica.
Many have tried to duplicate what Flores said was the first Italian ice place in town. But no one comes close to the quality, he said, with as much fresh fruit in each serving. Others make fancier, Instagram-worthy treats, but he said that adding too many extras slows down the service.
To those who approach the Floreses about adding more locations, getting bigger, or even franchising the concept, they say no. They say they care too much about maintaining the quality of their products, but also about the other businesses that rely on them.
“If I was to stop selling to the other [fruterias], I can’t do that because it’s a compromise,” Flores said. “If I open more, I would have a lot of money.” But he'd rather invest in Las Nieves in ways that support others who want to open their own fruterias.
Las Nieves may be Spanish for snow, but Flores says here it means more than that – snow, ice, fruit, "all together."
Bring it on, summer.