Mary’s Paleteria is a splash of color to anyone traveling down the bleak South Treadaway Boulevard. Between an abandoned gas station and a gravel road, Mary’s bright pennant flags and painted tropical murals can’t be ignored.
Mary’s is the only paleteria in Abilene, serving a variety of Mexican inspired delights, including paletas. A paleta is a Latin American ice pop, usually made from fresh fruit, but can be either cream-based or water-based.
In 2000, Martin Marquez opened Mary’s Paleteria after helping his father open Mary’s Mexican restaurant across the street. Both Mary’s operations are the namesake of Martin’s two younger sisters, Marisela and Maricruz.
“I think my dad wanted to do something of his own,” said Marquez’s daughter, Jasmine, a sophomore at Woodson Center for Excellence.
When the building across the street from the restaurant went up for sale, Marquez bought it and went to work.
“He fixed it all up then got a friend to teach him how to make all the homemade ice cream, all the homemade drinks,” she said. “He got the hang of it and did it all on his own.”
Two years later, Martin was working at another job remodeling a house when there was an accident. A coworker found him dead at the site, but because he was working alone that day, the cause of his death is still unclear.
Immediately, his wife took ownership of the store and continued making the desserts her husband had perfected. Customers are often surprised to learn the woman behind Mary’s, is actually a Silvia.
“She didn’t know anything,” Jasmine said. “But she picked it up, and she’s been doing it on her own for 12 years and makes everything; all the drinks, ice creams and fruit bars.”
Jasmine has the same bright brown eyes as her mother, only with a thicker smudge of teenage eyeliner. A cotton apron hangs around Silvia’s tan neck. She sits next to her daughter who helps translate and find the tougher English vocabulary she occasionally misplaces.
Long reach-in freezers and refrigerators wrap across the store and serve as the counter between customers and employees. To the left are the drinks with ladles that reach down into deep stainless steel containers. The brightly colored flavors range from piÃ±a colada to the traditional, milky Mexican horchata – a cinnamon and vanilla beverage. Whole construction crews stop by every afternoon for a ladle of the popular limeade.
The ice cream waits on the far right, taking up prime real estate next to the frozen bars and chocolate covered bananas.
While many of the recipes include classic flavors like cookies and cream and rocky road, the treats showcasing Mexican flavors are the real stars. Most of their ingredients are brought in from Mexico, like the chili powder in the fruit cups and the cocoa and vanilla in the ice cream.
Non-traditional flavors, like cheese ice cream, spike customers’ interest.
“They say, ‘Oh like cheesecake,'” Silvia laughed. “No, no, no, not like cheesecake.”
Rather, sweet cream is sprinkled with a salty Monterey jack cheese blend to create the unique texture.
Silvia makes batches of three different flavors every three days in order to keep ice cream in stock.
Customers always come for the delicacies, but they stay for the conversation. Despite Silvia’s lack of fluency in speaking English, she can still understand most of wait what she hears.
Silvia smiles as Jasmine translates her stories about college students who come back to visit her long after they’ve moved out of Abilene.
“One guy wanted to try every flavor of ice cream I had,” Silvia recalls. “It was funny to watch his face because even the ones he didn’t like, he would tell me it was good just because he appreciated me.”
A local Abilenian, Jesse Moon, is a regular at Mary’s. He and a friend sit at one of the two laminate tables inside the cool paleteria. Crepe paper pineapples hang from the ceiling and twirl as gusts of wind blow in each time a customer walks through the door.
“Today I tried the pistachio,” Moon said. “It’s always good.”
Despite slow days or minor disasters – like entire cases of melted paletas – Silvia only speaks about how much she loves her job.
“Me encanta, me encanta,” she said as Jasmine translated.
Silvia disappears back into the kitchen and Jasmine returns behind the counter to service the drive-through.
“People walk in and ask to talk to Mary and my mom just smiles and says, ‘Sure, I’m Mary.'”