By Salvador Cerna
How many fond memories come to mind when you step into an ice cream parlor? Perhaps it’s the first date with a special someone from your past or the smile of delight of children enjoying the satisfying, sweet and creamy nectar. Or it’s reminiscent of time ‘you truly care’ with your significant other, who holds a cone with one hand and your arm with the other. A good ice cream cone has the power of awakening all of your senses. Its flavor will transport us to joyful places of our past, and it will forever engrave the experience in your memory. This will be the same experience you will have as you step into “Los Mangos,” a family-run business owned by Jose and Laura Ochoa. Los Mangos is at 3859 W. 26th St. in the heart of the Little Village community.
As soon as you walk into the shop, you enter a family-friendly atmosphere. Shelves filled with snacks and chicharrones. Stands filled with a selection of fresh fruits; and, of course, a large variety of cream-based and ice-based ice cream, and paletas, ice cream bars. But that is not all. You will also have a choice of yogurts, sandwiches, tamales, atole, aguas frescas and so much more.
As Jose explains, “When you come to Los Mangos, you will always find something for everyone.” He enthusiastically says, “In the summer, our fresh and cold treats, aguas frescas, ice creams, and ice bars are our most popular items. In the winter, our champurrado, hot chocolate, and tamales are most in demand.” He emphasizes, “And everything is homemade.”
Jose describes how they became the proud owners of Los Mangos. “My wife worked for the previous owner, Eladio Montoya, as the manager for all of his stores. He offered her the opportunity to own this store.” He adds, “It was scary in the beginning, but we figured it would be nothing different from what she was doing already. Now we have been the owners for the past three years.”
After only one year with the store, Jose goes into explaining how the pandemic affected them. “We were doing well until COVID-19 hit.” He explains that a business like Los Mangos relies on people coming into the shop, making themselves comfortable, and ordering as they please. “You might come into the store to buy ice cream, but once in, you might get a craving for something else.” He states, “When things changed, people could no longer sit in the store. We had to cut hours; instead of closing at 10:00 p.m., it forced us to close at 7:00 p.m. Some of our employees quit because we were forced to reduce their work hours; my wife and I had to work from opening to closing.” He explains that production and profits suffered as a result, and they were just barely making it. “We kept our doors open mostly so that we could keep the few employees left. Losing them would mean retraining. So we cut hours and keep as many of our employees as possible.”
The couple also knew that cutting hours and keeping their key employees was just a temporary solution, and sought help. Hilario, the brand-name owner, told them about the work of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at ESDC, who connected them to Javier Haro. “Javier began advising us and helping us apply for COVID-19 related grants and loans, and we qualified for some, which were a lot of help.” He continues, “Javier later referred us to Diana Hinojosa, who continues to assist us by informing and advising us on other grant opportunities like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. She reminds us of upcoming webinars to help us improve my business and now is helping me to expand my business.” He adds, “My wife and I are planning on getting another store, but this time we want to own the building and Diana is helping us navigate through the process.”
Jose highlights that since his experience working with Javier and Diana, he has referred several small business owners. For those individuals who do not seek help, he has this to say, “As a business owner, I know how much time and money I have invested in my store. Don’t lose all that you have invested because you do not look for help. You can trust the advisors of IL SBDC at ESDC; they are only a phone call away.”
Los Mangos 3859 W. 26th St. (773) 277-8944