“Cotton candy… I actually don’t really like it!”
Martha laughed, eyeing the sugary cone in her hand. “But it reminds me of my mother.” She took a slow bite of the ice cream, savoring the sweet rush of memories. “She liked to buy me some at the carnival when I was a kid.”
For loyal fans, it’s no secret: family is everything at the Morales’ ice cream shop in Durham. Nestled beside Cosmic Cantina on Ninth Street, Pincho Loco serves a delicious variety of their favorite Latin American ice cream, drinks, and desserts.
The joint is a labor of love with all hands on deck. Between multiple jobs and school activities, Martha, her husband Luis, and their two children Sofia and Daniel work closely together to keep the churro sundaes coming. For Pincho Loco’s grand opening last summer, it was Sofia’s idea to design coupons – a strategic move that certainly got me and my friends through the door!
True to the Bull City’s rising rep as the “Startup Hub of the South,” entrepreneurship runs in Martha’s blood. Growing up in a family of self-starters, Martha witnessed the grind and grit firsthand.
“‘Keep trying’ is the keyword for us. Making your own product, and making it right,” she said. “My daddy, he used to make popsicles at home all the time. Every afternoon, he would go out to sell. Even my grandma, she used to cook all the time. Everytime she wanted to do something, she kept trying it first for a week, making it better and better and better.”
It’s a legacy of persistence that Martha and Luis have carried on the hard way.
After all, ice cream was never part of their plan. In Spanish, Pincho Loco actually means “crazy shish-kebabs” – a nod to the family’s original dream of opening a restaurant. Over the course of seven years in retail, Martha and Luis worked hard to save up the starting capital and press through the challenges of launching a business.
“When we went to City Hall to get permits, everybody kept telling us the same thing: ‘God bless you, you don’t know what you’re doing, child.’ Maybe I don’t, but I won’t know if I don’t do it, right?” Martha said. “We don’t come from a family that has a business here in the United States, a family that has money, or a family that can guide you through the steps that you need to do. We mostly followed information from booklets… we didn’t know much more than that.”
The couple eventually secured a lease and installed a full-service kitchen, complete with a grill to fire up kebabs of all flavors. Everything was ready to go – until their plans hit a ceiling.
Too late, they learned they had rented a 150-year-old historical building whose owner’s own grandfather had built the roof. Concerned that smoke from the grill would damage the ceiling tiles, the city barred Martha and Luis from moving forward with their restaurant.
With little choice but to pivot, the family regrouped: What need could they still meet in the community as a food business?
It was Luis and Sofia who proposed filling the gap left behind by Ben and Jerry’s closing a year earlier. In four short weeks, the family rebranded Pincho Loco as an ice cream shop and partnered with La Michoacana to supply the Latin American flavors enjoyed today.
“If you want to do something on your own, have a plan B,” Martha advised. “If you fail, that’s ok. You can fail as many times as you want, but you have to learn how to get up and do something different. Nothing is going to be easy or perfect, but keep fighting. Don’t let anybody tell you no.”
With such generous scoops of spunk, no wonder their ice cream’s crazy good.
The Morales family loves hosting community groups. To plan a visit for your class or colleagues, call 919.286.5111 and follow Pincho Loco on Facebook for discounts and seasonal offerings!
Author’s Note: I highly recommend the milk-based popsicles. Mamey is similar to papaya, rice pudding actually has rice in it, and kahlua is the real deal. Can you tell I’m a fan?