Another thing to envy about New Zealand, besides its ultra-low COVID infection rates and generous parental leave policies? Its real fruit ice cream, which blends vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit to order, creating a vibrant ice cream with the smooth texture of soft serve. Thankfully, one of Portland’s makers of New Zealand-style real fruit ice cream, Nico Vergara (a former manager at ice cream cart Zeds Ice Cream) is opening up shop soon—this time on his own as Nico’s Ice Cream. Starting this month, Vergara will kick off the summer season with half-pints sold in shops, a series of fruit ice cream pop-ups, and a spinoff called Nico’s at Night, which will blend vanilla ice cream with breakfast cereal. A North Portland ice cream cart is also in the works for the summer.
Starting in the next couple weeks, customers will be able to purchase half pints of Nico’s most popular flavors—Willamette Valley-grown berries including strawberry, raspberry, marionberry, and blueberry blended with Tillamook vanilla ice cream—at locations including Pearl district Mexican restaurant República and Troutdale air tour company Envi Adventures.
The first real fruit ice cream pop-up will be on May 27 at Envi Adventures, where Vergara will be blending ice cream to order and customers will be able to purchase $10 flight tours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first Nico’s at Night spinoff event will take place at Saint Simon Coffee Company on May 29 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., featuring vanilla ice cream mixed with nostalgia-laden cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, and Captain Crunch rather than fruit. Keep an eye out for future collaborations, like a mochi donut ice cream sandwich collab with pop-up Heyday. Details are still in the works for the new cart’s regular summer location.
The ice cream at Nico’s Real Fruit ice cream will bear a lot of similarities to Zeds Ice Cream, which opened in 2016 and braved a difficult 2020 season. While the Zeds crew, including Vergara, headed to Austin a few months ago to open a location there, Vergara recently decided to return to Portland, his home town, to start his own business.
“I [wanted] to be back here with these amazing people,” Vergara says. “In Portland, [it’s] small business owners supporting other small business owners—and in my opinion, you don't see that in a lot of other places other than Portland.” He also points to the lack of diversity in Austin as a reason for moving back to Portland’s small but supportive community of BIPOC small business owners.
Nico’s Ice Cream will also have a giving back component. Vergara plans to partner with Tankproof, an Austin-based nonprofit coming to Portland this summer that provides swimming lessons and food to kids of color, by providing ice cream at Tankproof swimming lessons in Portland. He’ll also donate a portion of proceeds during fundraising events for Dollar For, a nonprofit that provides medical debt relief.
Editor's note: This story has been update to clarify that Vergara was a manager at Zeds Ice Cream. A previous version of the story stated that he was a partner/owner.