Hickory Hill

Ice cream shop La Michoacana is prepping for two new locations in Olive Branch, Little Rock

For more than a decade, La Michoacana has served delicious desserts to hungry Mid-Southerners. It's built a reputation for housemade ice creams and paletas, as well as well-loved Mexican drinks and treats like elote, chicharrón, nachos, horchata, and chamoyada.

Owner Rafael Gonzalez said that in the hottest summer months, each of La Michoacana's six locations will serve 500 to 1,000 people a day.

Gonzalez also said he's in the early stages of launching two new locations in Little Rock, Arkansas and Olive Branch, Mississippi. He and his wife, Ana, lead the staff across all locations, which are open daily of from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“The atmosphere is great. I've been here when there were so many people in line they were coming out the door,” said longtime customer Hal Newburger of the Summer Avenue location.

Even when the shop is slammed, Newburger said the crew still maintains its warm and friendly service. He's never seen Gonzalez show frustration or rudeness to a customer.

Gonzalez is from Chihuahua, Mexico but has spent the majority of his life in Memphis.
Spiced fruit cups are a favorite treat for La Michoacana customers who aren't in the mood for ice cream. (La Michoacana)
As he got older, he noticed there were few authentic Mexican ice cream shops or heladerías. His father made paletas before him, and he felt continuing the tradition would be a great way to support his family and contribute something new to the Mid-South.

“Opening my own business was the best thing I did in my life because I can help people like my employees and the community,” said Gonzalez.

The first location opened in Horn Lake, Mississippi in 2007. Gonzalez chose 6635 Winchester Road in Hickory Hill for the second location.

“There's a [big] Hispanic community over there. That's why we opened that one,” Gonzalez said of the Hickory Hill location.

Robert Niles has lived in Hickory Hill for 25 years. When La Michoacana opened in his neighborhood, he noticed how busy it stayed. It took him a few years to try it for himself, but he hasn't eaten ice cream from anywhere else since that first trip.

“I think it’s a milestone for Hickory Hill,” he said of the business's staying power.

A third store, now located at 4091 Summer Avenue,  opened in 2009 on the border of Berclair and The Heights. The area is home to Memphis' largest numbers of Spanish-speaking residents.

The original Summer Avenue location was in the same retail strip as its current location, but the overwhelming demand forced a move to a larger bay. That location is now Gonzalez's largest.

“The community is real involved there and getting better, and it’s safe,” said Gonzalez.

Next came locations on Getwell Road and Germantown Parkway in Memphis and one in Jackson, Tennessee

“This is the best ice cream in town," said Newburger. "My favorite is the rum raisin ice cream, and my wife loves the mint chocolate chip ice cream."

“The customers get mostly the ice cream. The popsicles sell really good. They like the fruit [cups and cocktails] but mostly the ice cream,” said Gonzalez.

La Michoacana's Winchester location opened in 2009. (A.J. Dugger)
While some restaurants are renowned for a signature flavor or dish, many La Michoacana customers like the variety so much that it's hard to pick a favorite.

Newburger likes rum raisin, but he also keeps a picture of the banana split saved on his phone. 

“You want to try something good? Try the banana split,” he said.

Lauren DeWalt is another longtime customer.

“I like their cookies and cream, rum raisin, Mexican cake, and vanilla flavors. I like the friendliness of their staff, and their willingness to let you taste and try different flavors,” she said.

“I never have to wait long for my order,” said added.

Gonzalez said La Michoacana has also given back to the community by donating paletas and snacks to schools in neighborhoods around their locations and donating to nonprofits including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. 

Read more articles by A.J Dugger III and Cole Bradley.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit ajdugger.net. (Photo by April Stilwell) Cole Bradley is a native Memphian, graduate of the University of Memphis and High Ground's managing editor. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and joined the High Ground in Jan 2017. Cole's is passionate about solutions journalism and anthro-journalism, fusing anthropological methods for deep community engagement with people-centered, sidewalk-level journalism.
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