Editor’s Note: The following is the first post by our new monthly contributor, Jenni Peterson, who is living in Medellin while working toward her PhD in disease ecology.
The mystery of the repeat store decoded one ice cream at a time
Every day on my way to the gym I walk by six ice cream places within 50 meters of each other.
The arrangement leaves me a bit puzzled. On the one hand, it is convenient to have six of the same store all in a row when you are searching for something rare – like that one time I needed a specific kind of fabric to cover jars full of live blood-sucking insects.
But for ice cream, how do you decide which place to go to? Which one is the best? How do they all stay in business?
After years of being plagued by these unresolved questions, I decided enough was enough.
Although my blood sugar levels would skyrocket and all hope of fitting into last year’s jeans would be crushed, I was determined to demystify the phenomenon of the repeat ice cream store once and for all.
I chose Premium Plaza as the place to carry out the task. Why not Santa Fe, San Diego or the ritzy Oviedo, amongst Medellín’s countless malls?
Because Premium Plaza is the dark horse mall of Medellín.
Situated unassumingly on La Avenida Poblado in between the scrappy CC San Diego and the overgrown CC Santa Fe, if malls were a family, Premium Plaza would be the overlooked middle child.
But in actuality Premium Plaza is perfect: shiny and clean, not too crowded and has everything one could ask for without being overwhelming.
Most importantly, it has NINE ice cream stores – and that is just my current count! I suspect that there is a tenth lurking in a dark corner.
I recruited a diverse team to assist me. In total we were two Paisas (Jota and Vanessa), one Canadian (Jocelyn) and one American (moi).
We did our best to maintain continuity across the nine shops, but sometimes we had to switch it up due to product availability and our inability to eat nine bowls of the same ice cream in two hours. I don’t think this affected our final results though.
So, without further ado, I present you the nine ice cream stores of Premium Plaza….
Cold War: three frozen yogurt shops within yelling distance of each other
Specialty: frozen yogurt, toppings, smoothies
What we got: “natural” flavor with strawberries
Price: 5,300 pesos ($2.81)
Enjoy is a little kiosk located catty-corner to Juan Valdez on the first floor. There is no seating, so we had to huddle in a corner with our frozen yogurt.
We all agreed that Enjoy took the name frozen yogurt too literally, because it tasted like someone had put a vat of nonfat yogurt in the freezer and then sold it to us.
Vanessa really liked it, while the rest of us found it to be pleasant but not satisfying. This would be the place to go if needed something to hold you over before dinner without ruining your appetite.
Specialty: self-serve frozen yogurt and toppings
What we got: “natural” flavor with strawberries and a cup of lulo and guanabana
Price: 5,100 pesos ($2.71) for two cups filled with a teeny bit of frozen yogurt
Upon entering Woody’s, we were greeted with blaring salsa music, bright lights and pink balloons. Woody’s is a proper store with tables as opposed to a kiosk like Enjoy. There were at least ten flavors to choose from, all self-serve.
We served ourselves the “natural” flavor with strawberries and a separate dish of lulo and guanabana twist. It all seemed quite promising, with the energetic atmosphere, many choices and the self-serve gimmick.
Unfortunately the fun stopped there because the frozen yogurt was god-awful. The natural flavor had no flavor at all; a more precise name would have been air flavor. The strawberry topping tasted like a gelatinous chemistry lab concoction, distantly related to jam.
We disagreed about the guanabana and lulo flavors. My three companions took one bite and immediately screamed “gross!” I took a bite and kind of liked it. It was a unique flavor, like a tart grape. Nothing I would come back for though.
We agreed that Woody’s is all about the gimmick. You are swept away by the peppy atmosphere and fun choices, which are meant to distract you from the sub par product.
Specialty: frozen yogurt, toppings, smoothies
What we got: natural flavor with strawberry syrup
Price: 3,900 pesos ($2.07)
Yogopolys is the economical version of Enjoy located on the second floor across from Popsy.
We got a strawberry sundae which turned out to be frozen yogurt with Smuckers fresa syrup.
The yogurt tasted like a milder version of the yogurt from Enjoy but with a slightly grainy texture. The strawberry syrup was a bright pink slime with an indistinct sweet flavor and a sour aftertaste.
If I were a frozen yogurt entrepreneur, I would buy Yogopolys and merge it with Enjoy to concentrate my efforts on making a better, more creative product with better marketing- like maybe a Greek frozen yogurt served up with a little of the Woody’s style music and balloons.
As it stands, if I were to predict any store to go out of business in the next year it would be Yogopolys. It just doesn’t have that extra something that all the other places have and there is a place (Enjoy) within yelling distance that serves the same thing slightly better.
Paisa vs. Rolo: Bogota can’t compete with Medellín nostalgia
Specialty: various flavors of hard ice cream; Mimo’s is famous for its choco crispi cone
What we got: a double cone of strawberry and brownie; we also got a choco crispi cone from Mimo’s
Price: Popsy: 4,200 pesos ($2.23); Mimo’s: 9,100 pesos ($4.83, for two ice creams)
Popsy and Mimo’s are very similar ice cream chains found throughout Medellín. Both are predictable, commercial and widely available, similar to a Baskin Robbins.
Vanessa and Jota explained that Mimo’s was where they would go for ice cream as kids, so they liked it for the nostalgia. They added very darkly that Popsy was from Bogotá.
The fresa ice cream from both stores tasted exactly the same: if you like fake strawberry flavor (which I do), you will like this ice cream. The brownie ice cream was not very good from either place: artificial tasting with no hint of chocolate or brownie.
The real winner between Popsy and Mimo’s was the choco crispi cone. A soft serve cone with vanilla and arequipe ice cream was rolled in rice krispies and then dipped in chocolate.
It was a perfect combination of flavors and texture. Mimo’s was the clear winner in the Paisa vs Rolo ice cream battle.
*Mimo’s has two locations in Premium Plaza, so it is ice cream shop number 4 and 5. The one we reviewed is on the second floor in the food court; there is a another on the third floor in front of Crepes and Waffles.
Some like it soft: super compact kiosks serve up satisfactory soft serve sundaes
Specialty: soft serve sundaes
What we got: selva negra sundae
Price: 5,900 pesos ($3.13)
I didn’t want to include McDonald’s because I know it is a traveler faux pas!
In my defense however, it is an ice-cream-only kiosk located in between Popsy and Mimo’s, so I could not exclude it just because it is a looked-down-upon fast food chain from my own country.
The McDonald’s ice cream kiosk offers only soft serve vanilla ice cream with your choice of 3 toppings or two McFlurry flavors, both involving Oreos. The selva negra McFlurry is vanilla with cherry topping and Oreos.
It appears that they didn’t bother sending the McFlurry machines this far south; the result is a sundae with two toppings that are half-heartedly mixed together with a spoon by the McDonald’s lady.
This is fine with me because it still has that McDonald’s mystery chemical – you know, the one that makes you want more, even though you know what you are eating is so far from milk or a cow that it would probably catch on fire if you lit a match nearby.
That said, the vanilla ice cream is creamy and sweet, and the selva negra is darn good – if you can get past the shame of going to McDonald’s.
Specialty: soft serve and hard ice cream, ice cream bars, sundaes, ice cream sandwiches and chococonos
What we got: soft serve vanilla with blackberry topping
Price: 2,100 pesos ($1.11)
Helado Fino is a compact kiosk next to the elevator on the first floor. It is no frills but they pack a lot of variety into their tiny location. There is no seating at the actual kiosk, but they are located right next to a bunch of chairs and sofas.
The woman working there was more relaxed than the employees at the other ice cream shops. She patiently answered our questions and smiled at us as we hemmed and hawed about what to order.
We ended up going for a cup of vanilla soft serve ice cream with blackberry (mora) topping.
Before putting in the ice cream, she lined the cup with leche condensada, a really nice touch that smaller places here usually do with ice cream and salpicon. The ice cream then came with a vanilla wafer on top, all in all a very nice presentation.
The four of us had split opinions on the ice cream. Jocelyn did not like it, complaining that it tasted artificial and was too melted. Jota declared it to be perfect. Vanessa preferred the yogurt and I thought it was absolutely fine, no more, no less.
Overall, Helado Fino would be a good place to go after doing a lot of shopping with your family – you could get multiple ice creams at a good price from a nice lady and then crash on a sofa to rest your feet.
Save the best for last: an old standard saves the day
Specialty: hard ice cream, with the option of having it on a crepe or in a waffle
What we got: samples of fresa and brownie, a double cone of limón cheesecake and crocante flavor
Price: 4,200 pesos ($2.23)
I hate to be predictable but there was no denying it: Crepes and Waffles Heladeria blew every other ice cream store out of the water.
After eating a total of nine ice creams, we felt sick and disappointed that there was no clear winner. Everything was mehh (except for Woody’s, which was super mehh).
When Jota suggested that we try Crepes and Waffles because they had an “absolutely amazing” new flavor, we felt a glimmer of hope. I hadn’t originally planned on including Crepes and Waffles in the survey, thinking it was too much like a restaurant and therefore more expensive.
However, the heladeria turned out to be located separately from the restaurant and the price for a double scoop cone was the same as Popsy at 4,200 pesos ($2.23).
We walked into C&W Heladeria and it just felt right: there was softer lighting than the fluorescent interrogation lighting of the mall, accompanied by the enticing aroma of freshly baked waffles.
For the sake of continuity, we tried the fresa and brownie ice creams before moving onto the flavors recommended by Jota.
The fresa was different from that of Popsy and Mimo’s: a little more refined and less artificial. The brownie flavor tasted like cake batter: odd for brownie flavor, but still delicious.
I couldn’t place the taste of the crocante flavor, it was indistinctly nutty and sweet . They told me it was a combination of coffee, nuts and caramel. I did not like it, but my fellow tasters were enthusiastic.
The real winner though was the limón cheesecake, for which I wrote in my notes “f***ing great.” It was a creamy limón flavor with the perfect amount of tart and sweet, offset by chunks of graham cracker crust and cheesecake.
After nine ice creams, you’d think we would have wanted to stop eating this one. Not true – we ate it voraciously, a true testament to its superiority.
The answer at last!!
I think I finally understand the secret behind the repeat ice cream store.
Every place is mediocre, so you settle for the one closest to you that fits some loose criteria- are you on the first floor and did you just try on some jeans that made you look fat? Have some frozen yogurt at Enjoy.
Want to be in control of your own destiny? Go to Woody’s.
Missing your abuela? Let Mimo’s take you back.
There is so little variation in product quality because personal factors dictate the choice.
The exception is the high-quality Crepes and Waffles Heladeria, which uses the Juan Valdez technique of hiding in a less-trafficked corner of the mall – as you search for it your desire grows, making the reward all the more gratifying.
Now go eat some ice cream!