Family Owned Tocumbo Ice Cream Opens at Mercado del Barrio
Monday, May 13 was a beautiful, hot day in San Diego. Temperatures broke records throughout the county. But in my community of Barrio Logan things were a lot nicer because Tocumbo Ice Cream opened shop. And neighborhood residents flocked to get their cool ice cream fix.
The family owned and operated Tocumbo Ice Cream brought their 3rd San Diego location, and fourth overall, to the brand new Mercado del Barrio. The Mercado del Barrio opened with the Estrella del Mercado apartments in October and was followed by Gonzalez Northgate Market in December. Since then a financial services business opened, a T Mobile and now Tocumbo Ice Cream. Pretty soon there’ll be a Little Caesar’s Pizza to go with your ice cream and a laundromat to clean any ice cream or pizza grease stains that one happens to get on their clothes. Other business will soon follow suit.
Ever since I first saw a sign on their window announcing they were going to open up my family and I have been waiting anxiously in anticipation. We can see it from our balcony that faces the Mercado del Barrio placita. Every day we’d stare across Newton Ave. waiting for when they would open.
I’ve tweeted their progress through my @DesdeLaLogan account. I updated my Facebook status whenever there was a new development. I’d see workers going in and out busily preparing the business for its opening. Then the sign on top of the building went up. At night a blazing sign beckoning all that would see the bright letters of the word Tocumbo.
Then on May 4, as I was walking to a few community events here in Barrio Logan, I was handed a flyer announcing the opening on May 13. Not only did the flyer announce their opening it also offered a free scoop! Happy happy! Joy joy! The opening was around the corner and I was gonna get a free scoop too!
Tocumbo Ice Cream was founded in 2004 by the Ramirez family which includes patriarch Gerardo Ramirez — who works between 80-100 hours a week doing what he loves, his wife Martha and children Omar, Kelly and Crystal. Grandson Junior also helps out as well as do other family members.
Originally from Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacan the family decided to forgo the typical business of Cotija residents who immigrated to the US, the taco shop. They decided not to get in the taco shop business because they didn’t want to get all greasy and smell like tacos all the time.
Instead, the Ramirez’s got into the ice cream business that is usually done by people from the neighboring town of Tocumbo. Tocumbo is known throughout México for it’s delicious ice cream. If you’ve ever eaten ice cream in México the maker is more than likely originally from Tocumbo. Hence the name of their growing establishments.
They also have connections locally to Barrio Logan and are happy to set up shot here. “When I was little we grew up in this neighborhood. We’re all familiar. I was born and raised here in San Diego. We feel comfortable. We know the area. We know the people. We saw they were developing [the Mercado del Barrio] and we decided to give it a shot. There’s nothing similar nearby,” says son Omar Ramirez.
But Tocumbo is not your typical ice cream parlor. This place has a decidedly Mexican flair. The types of ice cream that they make will take you on a journey that famed chef Guy Fieri calls Flavor Town or as I have mexicanized, el Pueblo del Sabor. Not only do they have the typical flavors such as strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream but you also have Mexican flavors such as nopal (cactus), corn, guanabana, mamey, and nanche among others.
“Those are more of the exotic fruits that you can’t find around here. Nanche is imported from Guatemala. So is mamey,” says Omar. “It’s harder to get but we still have it.”
During different seasons they also have flavors such as avocado and rose petals! They’ve even dabbled in making tequila flavored ice cream and are open to making pretty much any kind if enough of their customers suggest it. “After you learn your basics you can pretty much do an infinite amount of things with ice cream. Anything edible you can make into ice cream.”
Omar say that his favorites are the sorbets. They’re more refreshing and tropical.
And to top it off this family does it right. No preservatives or artificial flavors or colors or stuff that you need a PhD in chemistry to decipher. Their ice cream is 100% homemade and all natural from recipes created by Gerardo. Just milk, sugar and fruit. It doesn’t get any better than that.
And their prices are very affordable as well starting off at just $1.50 for a scoop, $2.75 for two scoops and $5.89 for a big banana split. “We’re talking good sized stuff. We’re about half the price of a Coldstone. If you want mega sizes we got mega sizes. We didn’t have those sizes [initially] but people were asking and asking and wanted more and more. It’s really high quality stuff,” Omar states proudly.
During the summer they make ice cream 5-6 days a week. They go through about 300-350 gallons of their ice cold confection every week. And each store makes it’s own ice cream. Between ice creams and paletas (popsicles) they have about 50 different flavors. They have both milk and water based ones.
In addition to scoops of ice cream and paletas they also sell diablitos (lime sorbet with chamoy and chili pepper), chamango (slushie with chamoy, mango and other spices), mangoneado, tejuino, duritos preparados (a big flat chip with pork rinds, cabbage, Mexican sour cream and cheese), tostilocos, fruit salads, aguas frescas, licuados, smoothies and other delectable dessert items.
Like all businesses this family is in it to make a few bucks. They’re here to earn an honest living by providing a little sugary joy to the surrounding community. They’re also willing to give back. “I try and support schools. Help with fundraisers as long as it’s for kids and the community. I ain’t gonna be any richer. I aint gonna be any poorer. If I get my product out there people are going to know about it and like us,” says Omar when I asked him about any charities his businesses supports.
That first day shows that the community of Barrio Logan is literally hungry for ice cream. I look forward to walking across the street as frequently as I can and enjoy a Tocumbo. And perhaps the next time I’ll try a sorbet since Omar says that’s his favorite. Hopefully you’ll show a little support as well to a locally owned, family run business such as this.
Tocumbo Ice Cream has three locations in San Diego County and one in Murrieta. The ones in San Diego are here in Barrio Logan at 1900 Main St. Ste 188-A in the Mercado del Barrio, at 4686 Market St. near 47th St. and at 1172 Third Ave in Chula Vista. Their hours are 10:00am-8pm Monday through Friday. You can also like them on Facebook.