CREST HILL – Greeting cards from the old Rand’s Hallmark store in the Hillcrest Shopping Center have given way this holiday season to uniquely flavored Mexican ice cream.
Los Mangos, a 4-year-old Mexican ice cream chain, opened its eighth location for business Nov. 23 in the old Hallmark lot at 1701 N. Larkin Ave.
“It’s a very unique place,” Mayor Ray Soliman said Tuesday morning at a ribbon cutting for Los Mangos. “It’s a great addition to the shopping area.”
Los Mangos specializes in ice cream with Mexican flavors. It also serves the popular Mexican drink atole – a traditional hot corn-and-masa-based beverage – and tamales in the winter, when ice cream demand is lower.
“It’s a place you need to visit to explore the different flavoring,” said co-owner Eladio Montoya. “It’s a fun and colorful place that makes you want to be here.”
Among the flavors and configurations of ice cream offered is the mango with chili, a top flavor. Montoya said families usually don’t leave the restaurant without ordering the Mangonada, a thick smoothie drink.
The space was remodeled for an ice cream parlor’s use. Los Mangos marks the first business to occupy the lot since Hallmark shut down more than two years ago after 29 years of operation.
Montoya said his parents were undocumented immigrants when they came decades ago to the United States from Durango, Mexico.
His father was naturalized in the 1980s and started bringing over family. Montoya was 6 years old when he came to the U.S. in 1986.
Montoya and his wife started their business as a candy and piñata store. When they started serving ice cream, they saw that side of the business become more popular.
Los Mangos’ other locations are mostly in the Chicago area, with one location in Aurora. But Montoya, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Judith Montoya, and business partner, Jorge Angel, said there was a great opportunity to expand in the Crest Hill and Joliet area.
“There is a big demand with the high [Latino population],” Montoya said.
Joliet’s Latino and Hispanic populations are growing. Soliman said Crest Hill’s Latino population, comprising 20 percent of the city’s residents, also is growing.