Mamita’s Homemade Ices
Manufacturing frozen treats that beat the heat
By LISA FRASER
That was many years ago in the Dominican Republic. Fast-forward to 2011 and out of that afterschool tradition grew an ices factory that now distributes to many delis and bodegas across New York and other states.
It’s called Mamita’s, after the affectionate name given to the Morel family’s grandmother. The Ozone Park factory sits under the elevated A train line on 100th Street and Liberty Avenue. With its navy blue and white awning and the drawing of a smiling woman with upswept hair – fashioned after Mrs. Morel – it’s not hard to miss. But finding the right entrance is a challenge. Once you walk in, you are greeted with a painting that transports you to the tropics, while simultaneously the cold air from the freezers wafts out.
Javier Morel – who heads the business with his three brothers four sisters, and mother and father – is in and out but any number of his jubilant family members are usually around to greet the occasional guest who is interested in purchasing ices by the box – a small retail portion that gives the factory a relationship with the neighborhood.
The Morels immigrated to New York from Santiago in 1990 in search of opportunity. After they settled in South Ozone Park, one sister, Nieves, began to make cocount-flavored ices and sold batches of 30 to 50 to neighborhood stores. “People soon started to buy them more and more,” said Javier Morel, a clean-shaven man with a soft-spoken demeanor. At the time, they were still made at home in the family’s kitchen.
After an unsuccessful attempt to run a restaurant, the Morels took a risk and started an ices-only factory. They pooled together money, bought the needed machines and now the kitchen concoctions are a booming business. It wasn’t hard for the Morels to get into the rhythm of running a factory. The eight siblings were already used to it since their father owned a business in the Dominican Republic, where they spent time packing boxes.
In 2004, the current space – a former nightclub – opened up and the Morels swooped in, expanding it to 9,500 square feet. Recently, the family bought the laundromat next door and are expanding again.
The new space will bring another five people on staff, adding to the 25 extended family members and local residents who already work there.
The factory churns out 100,000 ices a day and distributes them to over 5,000 customers in Puerto Rico, Miami, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, Connecticut, North Carolina and New York. Mamita’s brings in over $7 million a year. “We’ve seen people try to do [the same], but so far nobody has come close,” Morel said.
Mamita’s produces seven flavors of ices: coconut, batata (sweet potato) cream, raspberry cream, tamarind, passion fruit, raspberry lime and mango. (Morel’s favorite is the raspberry.) The ices sell for one dollar in stores.
In the summer months, when the factory reaches its peak sales, the coconut, batata cream and tamarind rake in the most sales.
During the winter, sales dip, but Morel plans to change that: he’s looking into products that will always be in demand year-round, such as cheese, which he plans to start producing in a month, and fruit juices.
“We have to look to produce things that will last through all seasons,” he said. “Everybody eats cheese, but not everybody eats ices. That’s exactly how you stay strong.”
Morel never thought that the homemade ices would become so big. Best of all, he said, “you get to see your family everyday. Sometimes we fight but it doesn’t go farther than that; a few minutes after we make up.”
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