New Zealand will soon meet Northeast Portland at a new ice cream shop on NE Fremont. Nico’s Ice Cream describes its style as “New Zealand real fruit ice cream”—fruit blended with vanilla ice cream in a special machine before your eyes, dispensed soft serve–style into a cone or cup. But there’s something distinctly Oregon about the whole thing: Nico Vergara, owner of Nico’s, uses Oregon berries blended with Tillamook vanilla ice cream. Now the Northeast Portland–raised Grant High alum is bringing New Zealand style ice cream to a brick-and-mortar on Fremont.
Nico Vergara plans to open a brick-and-mortar in November next to Peter's Bar & Grill on the south edge of the Cully neighborhood. The new shop will offer made-to-order real fruit ice cream as well as prepacked half-pints to grab and go. The shop will also include a few indoor and outdoor seats, and additional menu items like tropical flavors in addition to the standard strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, and marionberry. Look out for new-to-the-menu toppings like sprinkles, toasted coconut flakes, and sweet-spicy chamoy. For special evening events, known as Nico’s at Night, Vergara will also offer special cereal mix-ins like Fruity Pebbles and Captain Crunch.
This will be the second outpost of Nico’s Ice Cream; in the spring, Vergara plans to resume operating the seasonal cart he opened in summer 2020 at the Prost Marketplace pod on North Mississippi. But while Vergara gained a neighborhood following in North Portland, often selling out on weekend evenings, he was also looking to open a brick-and-mortar in Northeast, where he grew up.
“I was doing lots of digging to try to find the perfect brick-and-mortar for Nico’s, in my eyes—but also wanting something that’s different,” Vergara says. “In Portland, there’s a lot of new builds—high ceilings, concrete, wood beams, which is great, but I didn’t feel like meshed with the Nico’s Ice Cream vibe. I actually live [minutes] away from the brick-and-mortar, so I was just accidentally walking by ... ended up calling the number, and finally made it happen.”
The brick building, Vergara says, formerly housed a ceramics shop and is close to 100 years old. It’ll require lots of revamping, including a new floor and the construction of a small bar for customers to sit at. But Vergara says he’s already received a warm reception from fellow business owners on NE Fremont.
“Fremont small businesses [are] very tight-knit, which is important to me,” Vergara says. “Anthony from Nacheaux already DM'd and said, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood.’ Prince Coffee reached out.... It’s very cool.”
Recently, Vergara says, he spoke to a group of students ages 9 through 17 at the Portland-based Latino Network about his small-business story.
“I spoke there a couple of times to young Latinos, saying … we are up and running, and it's possible without loads of money, et cetera—because when I was being raised, you know, in my head it was not even a possibility, it was just a dream.”
Nico's Ice Cream, 5713 NE Fremont St, soft opening planned for November 17, @nicosicecream