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How a trip to Guatemala inspired one man to open Nomad Ice Pops

  • Some of Nomad Ice Pops' unique flavors. Photo by Aurora Zeng.

  • Nomad Ice Pops is a popular destination at the San Gabriel Mission. Photo by Aurora Zeng.

  • Geoff Jennings, owner of Nomad Ice Pops. Photo by Aurora Zeng.

  • The Nomad Ice Pops counter. Photo by Aurora Zeng.

Location

415 South Mission Drive
San Gabriel , CA United States

For Alhambra resident and business owner Geoff Jennings, a spontaneous trip to Guatemala resulted in the founding of Nomad Ice Pops, a new dessert shop located in the San Gabriel Mission District.

Named after Jennings’ love of travel and the store’s busy catering services, Nomad Ice Pops uses whole fruits and natural ingredients. The store has a multitude of different flavors, ranging from coconut vanilla raspberry to Arnold Palmer and even peanut butter. The shop offers about 20 flavors every day.

Jennings, who makes his ice pops from scratch, said he is always experimenting with new flavors.

“I try not to over-sweeten my pops,” Jennings said. “I want people to taste the [real] ingredients I put in my pops.”

Upon entering the store, customers are instantly drawn to a freezer that displays the daily ice pop flavors, which are lined up in a colorful array. One wall is lined with Nomad Ice Pops shirt designs, while the other showcases pictures from Jennings’ travels, including a photo from Guatemala. An open kitchen behind the counter allows customers to see everything the store has to offer. The store is also solar powered.

Nomad Ice Pops’ unique flavors are inspired by Jennings’ travels. The idea for his lime basil pop, for example, came from a gelato store in New Zealand. Jennings has also made red bean pops, inspired by the area’s dense Asian community. The store’s most popular flavors include berry peach lemonade and pineapple mango, while Jennings’ personal favorite flavor is strawberry mint.

The idea to sell ice pops originated with Jennings’ love of the Mexican paleta, a frozen fruit bar. After closing his previous truck engineering business, Jennings decided to feed his love for Latin American culture and take a rafting job in Guatemala, where he stayed for almost two months.

According to Jennings, his first paleta came from a local woman in the village near the rafting company. She made them from scratch by using local fruits and freezing them into ice pops, which she sold to visitors like Jennings.

“I’ve never really had anything like that,” he said. “It just blew me away.”

After coming back to the San Gabriel Valley, Jennings began to make his own paletas. He made them for his daughters’ birthdays, among other events, and received feedback from his friends who encouraged him to sell his ice pops. It was not until looking at an ice pop store advertisement in an airplane magazine, however, that Jennings really considered opening his own store.

“It just clicked,” Jennings said. “Maybe there really is a business doing this.”

Jennings chose his store’s location to be on Mission Drive, near the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.

“I hope to see [this street] revitalize a bit and have the same energy as Main Street or Old Town Pasadena,” he said.

Employee Christina Luu, who has been working at the store since February, describes the store as attracting customers of all ages.

“Students, adults, people with kids… [our customers] are all very friendly,” she said.

Even though Jennings’ travels inspired his new business, Guatemala also almost threatened his life.

“I lived in elevated plank in the jungle with a tin roof and no walls. I woke up one night with a crazy high fever, and my whole leg was swollen,” he said. “There was a black oozing wound the size of a quarter on the back of my leg. I laid there for thirty hours thinking I was going to die.”

Later at the hospital, doctors told him he was bitten by a poisonous spider. While he managed to survive, his leg still risked being amputated. Thankfully, he was able to return to California with two functioning legs.

Shortly after opening Nomad Ice Pops, Jennings suffered another serious spider bite at a hotel in Northern California. Despite being hospitalized again, Jennings laughs about it now.

“I had just hired a new staff and suddenly I was gone for ten days without warning,” he said.

Putting his rough beginning with spiders in the past, Jennings hopes his store will continue to be successful for years to come.

“We’re something a bit different and unique from what everyone else is doing,” he said. “I hope [our ice pops] can be something people will look forward to.”

Nomad Ice Pops are available at their storefront (open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on 415 South Mission Drive in San Gabriel and every Sunday at the Alhambra Farmers’ Market.

Aurora Zeng is a rising senior at Mark Keppel High School and an Alhambra Source summer intern.

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