Paleteros: An El Paso welcome sight on hot, summer days
By, Joe Olvera
For Fernando Martinez, El Paso’s dog days of summer can provide a bonanza of sorts. You see, he sells fruit-flavored ice cream from a cart which he doesn’t mind pushing through neighborhoods and shopping centers. While it doesn’t provide him with riches, he is satisfied with the earnings he is able to generate on a weekly basis. “I sell more than 60 fruit-flavored ice-creams on a stick on any given day,” Martinez said. “This earns me anywhere from $250 to $300 per week.”
Martinez, who was pushing his cart through a neighborhood on Zaragoza and Betel, said he is able to support his family at least through the summer by selling ice-cream. On the winter months, he must choose another line of work, mostly by working on construction crews. “I used to sell paletas in Juarez, so when I came to El Paso to live, it was natural for me to begin selling here too. The people are, for the most part, very kind. They see that it’s a hot day and I’m out there in the hot sun, so they invite me inside their homes, offer me something cool to drink and, sometimes they even feed me. I’ve made many friends this way.”
Martinez’s day starts at about 11 a.m., and lasts until about 6 p.m. His company, Flavor Cream, only has about five paleteros. Sometimes a crew will be taken to different locations, even as far as Sunland Park, NM. His season starts in March and lasts through September – that’s when the weather starts turning cold. “I love what I’m doing. But, we only get paid a commission, that’s why I’m out there until 6. If I sell $100 worth of ice cream, I get about $45 from the company. We sell all flavors, including mango, melon, lemon, pistachio and watermelon.”
While Martinez works for a small company, Big Boy Concessions is exactly that – the Big Boy in town. In business for more than 50 years, the company, at 2309 Bassett Avenue, has expanded to include not only the sale of ice-cream, but, of hot dogs, ice, cotton candy, candy apples, popcorn, cart rentals and many other goodies. Daniel Morales, whose father, Cristino, started the company in 1955, said Big Boy Concessions is primarily a wholesaler that sells to independents and to charitable organizations for their fund-raising activities. The company was originally called Big Boy Ice Cream, but changed its name to Big Boy Concessions when it expanded to include other products.
“Our number one product is ice-cream, but, we’ve expanded substantially to include other services,” Morales said. “We wholesale Blue Bunny ice-cream, but, we do produce our own Fruit-tiki. These are fruit-flavored ice-creams such as the traditional watermelon, cantaloupe, lemon – 20 flavors in all.” Morales said he has worked at the company practically since he was a boy, working for his father until the elder Morales passed away. “One example of how we help out the community, is that we sell the fruit-tikis for 50 cents, and they can sell it for one dollar. We also provide concession stands for football teams, volleyball teams, churches, kermezzes, and others so that they can hold fund-raisers.”