An Interview with Rafael Alvarez
Local Hero: Best Food Shop
Photos by Stacey M. Adams
Pop Fizz is a Mexican-style paleteria with an American soda fountain twist. Rafael, Carlos, and Lorenzo Alvarez cofounded Pop Fizz to bring the most delightful desserts of their childhood to Albuquerque. As kids living in El Paso and often visiting the Mexican city of Juárez, brothers Carlos and Lorenzo would visit paleterias with their father, Rafael, and paletas easily went down as their favorite summertime treat. Pop Fizz has grown from its humble beginnings to offer organic and unique flavored paletas, ice cream tacos, and tasty eats like carne asada fries at its Albuquerque storefronts and food trucks.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
I helped my brother-in-law with his furniture manufacturing facility in Chihuahua City, Mexico, where we made high-end custom furniture for the locals from 1980 to 1984. From there, we opened a furniture store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1988, production was moved back to El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. The competition from China became very tough, and we closed the furniture and accessory factory around the year 2000. After that, I went back to graduate school at NMSU and got my degree in education. I have worked in Title I schools as a dual language teacher for the last twenty years and am still teaching with Albuquerque Public Schools.
My two sons and I decided to open an ice cream shop offering all natural paletas. From 2013 to the present, my sons have made the business grow by leaps and bounds, thanks to their vision and extremely high work ethic.
Rafael Alvarez with the Pop Fizz food truck.
What has been the best-selling paleta of 2020? How have you kept up your spirits and your business?
There actually are a cluster of best-selling paletas for this year, which have been the favorites for the past few years: jamaica (hibiscus) raspberry, mango red chile, coconut, and Mexican chocolate, among other specialty flavors such as pistachio, dulce de leche, cafe con leche, and blueberry creamsicle.
I personally have kept my spirits high and with hope for a better future through positive thinking and with the help of prayer. We keep on being busy with the few members of our personnel, as if we haven’t missed a beat. Thank God we have our food trucks going around to different invited venues and at the Open Spaces at Alameda and Rio Grande on the weekends. We also are very lucky to have a drive-through window at our North Valley location, which we keep open from Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6 p.m.
Have you ever done a Hot Cheeto paleta? What’s the craziest flavor you’ve come up with?
Well, the craziest flavor to come out of our wholesale facility is the pickle paleta, a favorite among a certain age group. And our kombucha mixed berries paleta.
I am currently working on a New Mexico version of the California UFO [unidentified frozen object] with biscochito cookies and all natural ice cream. These UFOs are ice cream sandwiches using only New Mexico products. They will be called New Mexico Biscochito Lunar Pies.
What are some of the new flavors that you’re making or thinking of making, and when will we be able to try them?
We have been making a series of creamsicles, such as blueberry, vanilla, sour cherry creamsicle, pistachio, pecan, and Keto pops.
Describe the perfect vacation (or the perfect day off work and school).
A cool place in the Colorado or New Mexico mountains with the family, without a cell phone, and with plenty of water, fruits, and snacks.
What’s a local food issue that’s important to you? Why?
What concerns me is the amount of family-owned businesses that have had to shut their doors due to the pandemic. This is truly a sad situation and of deep concern.
How can kids educate their parents on the importance of eating more paletas?
For one, the “kids” have to tell their parents about the importance of consuming local New Mexico True products made of 100% all natural fruits and flavors using only organic sugar. They should also tell their parents to buy locally made New Mexico True family-owned products.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
New Mexico, especially Albuquerque, has been a phenomenal place to do business, thanks to the brand loyalty and friendly nature of our admirable customer base.
6770 4th Street NW, Albuquerque, popfizzabq.com