When Pamela Beardslee Alfaro, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, was growing up, her mom always let her make a mess in the kitchen. She loved making up her own concoctions yet never dreamed it would turn into a career. But when her first child was born with food sensitivities, Pamela returned to her cooking roots to create an alternative to ice cream truck goodies. She bought plastic ice pop molds from Amazon and experimented in the kitchen like she used to, using natural ingredients to make allergy-friendly, all-natural ice pops. The whole fruit pops were a hit with friends and family (especially the kids), so Pamela began selling her Puras Paletas (translating to pure pops with a nod to her husband’s Costa Rican roots) at farmers’ markets with much success. We chatted with this West Orange mom of four to tell us the difference between Puras Paletas and ice pops from a grocery store, her newest endeavor, and where the country town where she and her family go to unwind. (featured photo credit: @puraspaletas)
Tell us a little bit about your background. I was born in Chile and adopted when I was 5. I grew up in Green Village in Chatham and always felt very loved and chosen–my parents said they handpicked me. My husband, Jorge, and I first met when I was just 19, and we were both working at Nicky’s Firehouse in Madison. We’ve been married for 15 years now and have four children, Jorge (13), Adriana (9), Valentina (2), and Melissa (21)—a bonus child from my husband’s previous relationship in Costa Rica, which is where he’s originally from and where Melissa grew up with her mom. After Melissa graduated high school, she came to the US, moved in with us, and is now studying business marketing.
What did you do career-wise before opening up your business? I originally planned on becoming a registered nurse. My mom was an ER nurse, so the importance of taking care of people, including myself, was always in the back of my mind. But in my second year of nursing school, my mom went into hospice from cancer, and I struggled when I lost her. I took a break from school and decided to leave it since I had some ADHD, and it took me a little longer to process information. I nannied and worked some other jobs for a while, and after my first son was born, I started making paletas. I saw the difference it was making in the lives of those with severe allergies, and I realized that taking care of others doesn’t always look the same. I get teary-eyed when parents come to me and share that their child has a severe peanut or dairy allergy, and they thoroughly enjoy my safe paletas. It makes it that much more worthwhile and further validates what I’m doing.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur? I worked in the pizzeria for about three years, and I loved everything about the restaurant vibe, so working in a commercial kitchen feels right to me and brings me such joy and happiness. I also love interacting with my customers–my mom always said I’d be an excellent social worker because I love listening to people’s stories. With my business, I get to do both.
Pamela’s colorful canopy set-up at Jazz Fest in Montclair.
What differentiates your ice pops from those found in most grocery stores? Paletas is a word that stems from Mexico, and it’s what they use to describe their form of ice pops, but in general, they’re fruit based. When someone asks me the difference between my ice pops and their local grocery store’s ice pops, I share that mine are like fresh fruit frozen treats that are non-processed, made with minimal ingredients, and never watered down or with added food coloring. Most of the ice pops you buy in grocery stores are watered down, labeled as natural flavoring, and laden with a ton of sugar like high fructose corn syrup. If you were to do a test, you could taste the difference!
Do you have a favorite paleta? My best seller is the watermelon-lemon paleta. At first taste, my customers say it tastes just like watermelon, and they can’t believe it. It’s naturally sweet and delicious, with just a hint of tart. That’s why I like to make everything from fresh (not frozen) fruit—it just tastes better. But, as a chocolate lover, my favorite has to be the chocolate banana fudge paleta. It’s not made with much more than pureed organic bananas, coconut milk, coconut powder, and a bit of organic cane sugar. After freezing, we hand-dip each one in chocolate—yum.
What’s next for Puras Paleta? We’ve just moved into our brick-and-mortar in West Orange and couldn’t be happier having a key to our retail space, most likely with a slight name change to Puras Paletas Gourmet Ice Pops and Sweet Treats. We’ll sell our paletas, agua frescas, and some baked goods. Once the weather turns cooler, we offer holiday-themed cookie kits for pickup, hot chocolate, tres leches, and other treats, which will help the business continue to thrive.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? We’ve always been fans of City Tavern, a fantastic Latin American and Costa Rican cuisine restaurant where they treat every customer like they’re special. The attention to detail there is perfect. I also love Java’s Compost, a full-service composting business. The owner, Michelle, has been my muse, and I get a lot of excellent business advice and help from her. Another favorite business is the Empanada Lady. I’d been following her for several years on social, and because it’s a Latina woman-owned business, I am incredibly inspired by her. Once I launched my own business, I felt confident enough to go up to her and introduce myself, and she’s been a mentor to me. She’s always so sweet and positive and has such uplifting, powerful, encouraging words, and to top that off, she makes the best buffalo chicken empanada.
What are some of your family’s favorite things to do in NJ? My kids love going to Chester. Right before my mom passed away, she made her best friend promise to look out for me, and we’re so close—she treats my kids like they’re her grandchildren. She has a country cottage in Chester with a brook that runs her property, and there’s a pond there, too. When we visit, we’ll kick back, catch frogs and tadpoles, blow bubbles, and relax. And as a family, we also love to go to Point Pleasant near my dad. On the rare occasion, we might also head to Jenkinson’s, but only if we’re looking for more than just peace and quiet.
What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? Outsource what you can. Don’t burn the midnight oil too often to try to do everything yourself—it’s too much, and you can burn yourself out. Outsourcing does take some money away from your profits, but at the end of the day, you’ll have a better balance and still have your sanity.