Azucar owner Suzy Battle built a Cuban ice cream empire in Miami. Now she’s bringing it to Dallas.
On board an American Airlines flight from Miami to Dallas, Suzy Battle, who owns the Miami-based Cuban ice cream shop Azucar, hauls two 50-pound boxes filled with frozen puréed tropical fruit, like guava, mango, and mamey.
Three hours and about 1,300 miles later, she transports the boxes, littered with baggage inspection notices from TSA, to her new shop in the Bishop Arts District, located a few miles south of downtown Dallas.
“There’s no guava in Dallas,” Battle laughs. “I fly so often with frozen fruit that the American Airlines staff know me, but the TSA agents just can’t get the hang of it. They probably think I’m some crazy fruit lady.”
This past July, Battle relocated to Texas to open a location of her wildly successful, cult-favorite Miami ice cream shop, Azucar, which debuted in 2011 in Little Havana, one of the largest Cuban neighborhoods outside of the island nation.
“My mom, who is 88 years old now, decided to move to Dallas a while ago,” Battle says. “Through traveling back and forth, I found an area and a space that reminded me so much of what I have going in Miami. It was too good to pass up. Now I’m based here, living with my mom and playing dominoes every night.”
Battle, a former banker who began making ice cream during the 2008 financial crisis, never thought her concept would become this popular. More than a decade ago, Battle was desperate to find a career that would put her children through college. Her love of ice cream, a treat she snacked on almost every night as a young girl, was something she inherited from her grandmother, who made her own frozen creams using tropical fruits she found in Cuba and parts of Central and South America. Then there was Battle’s grandfather, who spent most of his life as a sugar mill engineer.
“Cubans love ice cream,” she says. “I grew up my whole life eating it. It was something that brought my family together. But at the time, no one was making ice cream using Cuban flavors or inspiration.”
After completing ice cream programs at Penn State and the Frozen Dessert Institute in St. Louis, Battle was ready to open her small, brightly-colored shop in Miami. She scooped dozens of whimsical flavors that many had never experienced before, like guava and cream cheese, caramel flan, and Cuban coffee with Oreo.
“For me, Cuban ice cream was about going back to my roots and making traditional flavors as Cuban as possible,” she says. “It’s a labor of love. A lot goes into finding ingredients to make the flavors just right, especially in Dallas where certain tropical fruits aren’t available.”
Battle purchases more than 10,000 pounds of fruit from local Miami farmers each year, which are handpicked and delivered in bulk to Battle’s Little Havana store. One of her most frequent purchases is guava, which she blends with vanilla ice cream, chunks of cream cheese, and crushed tea biscuit-like Maria cookies to create one of her best-selling flavors, Abuela María.
“Cubans love to take a Maria cookie, top it with a slice of guava and cream cheese, and eat it with a coffee,” she says. “It’s basically the most popular Cuban snack in ice cream form.”
Azucar’s chalkboard menu of more than 50 rotating flavors also includes Cuban vanilla, café con leche, plátano maduro, which uses sweet plantains prepared at a small Miami grocery store nearby, and the chocolate and cayenne Burn in Hell Fidel, which Battle debuted days after the announcement of Castro’s death in November 2016. She also makes single-flavored creams with just about every tropical fruit she can get her hands on, like coconut, avocado, and papaya.
“The only thing that makes ice cream Cuban is using ingredients associated with the island,” she says. “It’s about putting a little taste of home into every flavor we come up with.”
In Dallas, the store offers an almost identical roster of Battle’s flavors inside a space that could almost double as the original in Miami. “Everything down to the plastic-covered seating is what I remember from my own Cuban family that I’ve brought into my stores,” she says. “Every time I look around, I can’t help but think of my grandma.”
Though it’s only been a few months, Battle has already started experimenting with Dallas-inspired Cuban ice cream, like the Three-Alarm Mango, which blends the frozen pulped fruit with locally-grown chilis.
“I’m having fun with making some of my original flavors a little hotter,” she says. “I’ve been playing around with different chilies that I’ve found here. As I meet more farmers, I want to make ice creams that reflect my culture but also have some Texas in them, too.”
In the next two years, Battle imagines herself expanding the store again. She’s received offers to open a location in Nashville, but also dreams about moving west to California.
“The sky’s the limit on this,” she says. “If you would have asked me ten years ago, I never would have thought I’d be here. But what I’ve learned is people love ice cream and they’re interested in the cultural experience that happens at Azucar. It’s not just another vanilla or chocolate. There’s a story and a community behind each scoop.”