Nico Vergara has been in the ice cream game for four years off and on, cutting his teeth at Zed’s before starting his own business, Nico’s Ice Cream, this past spring. Finding his footing with stockists, pop-ups, and then a cart stationed at Prost Marketplace this summer, Vergara announced this week that he will be leveling up into a brick and mortar with a projected opening this November. He plans to keep the cart for private events and catering and you will likely find it in front of Prost again next spring and summer.
The ice cream maker specializes in New Zealand-style ice cream, which is blended with fresh fruit to order and has a texture similar to soft serve. Local berries sourced from Willamette Valley Pie Co. do the twist with Tillamook vanilla in an ice cream machine Vergara had imported from the small island country. Plant-based eaters will likely be familiar with Nico’s vegan base Coconut Bliss, which is based out of Eugene.
Once settled into his new space, Vergara’s 2022 project is to develop a housemade base. Waffle cones are another component he currently sources but has plans to make in-house.
At the upcoming shop, customers will be greeted by Nico’s cheerful ice cream mascot and can expect to see the core four berry flavors—strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and marionberry—anchoring the menu. In addition to the regular menu, Vergara has also done a couple of series with special flavors, blending cereals like Fruit Loops and Reese’s Puffs for his Nico’s at Night pop-up, and doing a “Tropical Thursday” menu of mango, pineapple, or banana. He’s considering adding one or two of those limited edition fruit flavors to the regular menu.
Taking over a space formerly occupied by the boutique Cupboard Goods, the shop is located near the Fremont location of Fire On The Mountain, so you can conveniently cool your mouth down after setting it on fire with some spicy ass chicken wangs.
When Vergara sat down and laid out business goals for himself, year three was the initial target to open up a shop, but he credits a blockbuster summer and the right opportunity coming along for the rapid acceleration of his plans.
Followers of Nico’s Instagram have been able to track his meteoric rise since May. Vergara’s disbelief at the success of his fledgling business is charming; he’s candid with his community, and you just can’t help but root for him. “Being true to what’s going on—that’s something I’ve tried to do on social media from the start. Some of these companies… nothing against them, but they make it seem so easy,” said Vergara. “I want to show the real stuff, because one of my things with starting Nico’s is that I wanted to inspire young BIPOC entrepreneurs. I don’t want to put on a front of any sort. You need to work hard.”
Vergara, along with Rebecca Smith aka Ice Queen PDX and Black-owned company Ghetto Nostalgia, are carving out their own space as BIPOC entrepreneurs within Portland’s celebrated ice cream scene. “As many great ice cream companies as there are in Portland, there are very few [that are] BIPOC-owned. Having a BIPOC-owned business means everything to me,” Vergara said. “My father came from Chile when he was 24, 25 years old with nothing. He didn’t know any English and worked as a dishwasher. He’s told me many stories and after hearing his stories, you know, I’m blessed to be born in the U.S.”
With his new digs, Vergara is aiming to spread his wings. Working with local businesses and giving back to the community has been his M.O. since Nico’s Ice Cream’s inception, but with a home base to operate out of, he’ll have the capacity to bring some dream collabs to fruition. Already in the works are projects with HeyDay doughnuts and Honey Mama’s. Creative team Francisco Morales and Alexandra Peter, who are responsible for Nico’s logo and branding, will be handling design details for the brick and mortar plus installing a mural.
Knowing that “ice cream in the winter is not an easy sell,” the entrepreneur has more tricks up his sleeve… Vergara is toying with the idea of doing “Nico’s Coffee” in the morning to maximize hours and space. Although he has barista experience, he’d likely keep things simple with drip coffee, pour over, and cold brew, sourcing beans from regions in Latin America to stay true to his roots.
Nico’s Ice Cream, 5713 NE Fremont, opening fall/winter 2022, www.instagram.com/nicosicecream