BRENDA GUATEMALA WANTED TO BRING A SWEET TASTE OF HER HOMELAND TO SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE — AND FOLLOW IN HER MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS
BY RODOLFO ROMAN
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
As a child, Stephen Borge fondly remembers eating ice-cold treats with his family at the popular Raspados Loly’s in his hometown of Managua, Nicaragua.
More than 20 years later, he is reliving those moments with his wife and children with a newer version of Raspados Loly’s in Sweetwater.
“They are delicious,” said Borge, who enjoyed a green cherry-flavored raspado. “The taste reminds me of my childhood.”
The local version of Raspados Loly’s is owned and operated by Brenda Guatemala — the daughter of the Nicaraguan entrepreneur who made Raspados Loly’s popular in the Central American country.
“I am so proud of following her footsteps,” said Guatemala, 56, who opened her Sweetwater store 22 years ago.
The late Eloisa Guatemala began making the raspados 50 years ago in hopes of helping out with the household finances while her husband, Juan Jose Guatemala, studied dentistry.
Breaking the ice in his cup with a plastic spoon, Borge was one of many patrons who enjoyed the Nicaraguan treat on a hot and humid afternoon at the shop, located in Centro Commercial Managua shopping center, 10404 W. Flagler.
“They are a tradition for Nicaraguans,” said Borge, who drove with his family from Boca Raton.
The treat consists of ice shaved from an ice block served in a cup and mixed with thick, sweet syrup of the customer’s choice.
Brenda Guatemala said it took her mother several years to create the popular dulce de leche syrup. She said her mother visited a nun in Costa Rica who was known for miracles. The nun placed her hand on Eloisa’s head and told her that once she returned home everything would be fine, said her daughter.
Eloisa Guatemala began distributing raspados for free from her home, then began charging. She went on to open her store in Managua, and her children and husband helped her sell the product.
Brenda Guatemala left Nicaragua amid the country’s political unrest in the 1980s. She opened a raspados store just a few blocks from the current Sweetwater store — but that venture didn’t take off. She said the syrup was coming out a bit lumpy and too thick.
And there wasn’t yet a customer base of Nicaraguans nostalgic for a taste of home.
“There was nothing Nicaraguan when I got here,” said Guatemala, who said she learned the family’s secret recipe before she immigrated to the United States. “I thought it would serve well for the Nicaraguan exiles.”
After several tries and help from her mother, Guatemala said she finally got the taste right and began to sell the product from her Sweetwater home. She eventually saved money to open up the current store.
Raspados Loly’s, named after Eloisa’s nickname, features six flavors: the popular dulce de leche, tamarind, pineapple, strawberry, yellow cherry, jocote, a traditional Central American fruit, and relleno, which is a mixture of the leche syrup and pound cake. The store also sells other flavors like mango when the fruits are in season. The thick, sometimes chunky, toppings are what make a raspado different from your average snow cone.
Guatemala and her son, Michael Villavicencio, 27, work at the store. She hires temporary employees during the busy summertime. Prices range from $2.50 to $6 for an extra-large raspado. Snow cones and ice cream cones are also sold, as are Nicaraguan DVDs and music.
Inside the store, the sound of employees shaving the block of ice can’t be missed. Behind the counter, a large framed picture of Eloisa and Juan Jose Guatemala hangs on a yellow wall, reminding customers of the original creator.
Brenda Guatemala’s siblings operate several Raspados Loly’s stores across Nicaragua, including the original in Managua. Brenda said the historic treat is here to stay in Sweetwater.
“The new generation is taking on the tradition,” she said. “I have seen people come in here with their infants who let them try raspados.”
Guatemala says she also wants for her son to follow in the family footsteps — and plans to eventually hand the store over to her son, Michael, who has been working at Raspados Loly’s since he was 17 years old.
The eatery has been visited by Nicaraguan figures like former president Enrique Bolaños and former Major League baseball player Dennis Martinez. It has also attracted people of other nationalities, like Hollywood resident Anton Perez, whose parents are from Costa Rica and Cuba.
“I rate this ten out of ten,” said Perez, who enjoyed a raspado relleno. “There’s nothing like these amazing ice creams.”