A Greek immigrant named Andreas Aristidou, singlehandedly brought ice cream to Colombia in the 1930’s — and since then, three generation of Greeks have expanded the business to become the ice cream kings of this Latin American country.
Based in the coastal city of Barranquilla, in north Colombia on the shores of the Caribbean, “Heladeria Americana” has become a bit of an ice-cream empire, with six, soon to become seven, outlets in the city.
Antonis Mandralis-Aristidou, the general manager of the ice cream empire, was born in Colombia but grew up in Greece, which he loves. Speaking to the Greek Reporter, he says he is proud to continue the business founded by his grandfather.
“Heladeria Americana was founded in 1936 by my granddad, a Greek immigrant from the Peloponnese. It was a time of great opportunity and growth for Colombia. He brought the idea of ice cream, sweets and generally speaking the idea of “dining,” in Barranquilla.”
The city is the largest municipality and port in the northern Caribbean coast region of Colombia, with a population of 1,232,766 as of 2018. This makes it Colombia’s fourth most populous city, after the large population centers of Bogota, Medellin and Cali.
Mandralis-Aristidou says the best time to visit Barranquilla is during Carnival season. “It’s a famous carnival with lots of fun, comparable to Rio,” he explains. The carnival was even declared a part of the country’s “National Cultural Heritage” by the Congress of Colombia in 2001, and was recognized by UNESCO in 2003.
From ice cream to kebab
Evgenia Mandrali, the owner of Heladeria Americana, was born in Greece, but arrived in Colombia as an infant. “I arrived in Colombia in a little basket with my mother. I was only six months old,” she tells the Greek Reporter.
“Our restaurants are well-respected in the city. One can find everything. It’s a traditional Mediterranean eatery,” she says.
From ice cream to Greek kebab, Heladeria Americana has over the decades made quite an impact on the city’s gastronomy. However, its signature product is the “Frozo Malt,” originally created and served to customers back in the 1930’s by Andreas Aristidou — and still loved today.
Frozo Malt, from the English words “Freeze” and “Melt,” is a delight, deliciously combining frozen and warm temperatures and textures. It assimilates the texture of a milkshake with the composition of an ice cream.
The Frozo Malt, with a mild chocolate flavor, is also topped with tropical fruit jelly (the secret touch) and its now-famous cookie.
The signature ice cream of Heladeria Americana is served in a tall glass, just as the founder of the business did decades ago. Its light chocolate ice cream has a unique taste compared to the traditional chocolate, and the combination with tropical fruit on top is indescribably delicious.
“We have served it for 82 years in the traditional tall glass. The recipe has not changed much. Barranquilleros and visitors love it,” says Mandralis-Aristidou with pride.
Torn between Greece and Colombia
The general manager of the ice cream empire admits he is torn between Colombia and Greece. “When I am in Colombia, I miss Greece. When I go to Greece and stay for long periods, then I miss Colombia.
“Some say that Greece is like Colombia, but I say that Colombia is more like Greece,” he notes.
The Greek community in Colombia is small but vibrant. Some of the Greeks there, however, ended up leaving Colombia during the years of insecurity caused by the cartels and Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s and 90’s.
However, after the 90’s, when Colombia became safer and began recovering economically, many Greeks came back to their beloved country and began to grow innovative businesses there once again. Greeks are, indeed, everywhere.