It’s a busy summer Saturday for Alverno student Dominique Alvarado-Gonzalez as she bustles around her tent at the Cathedral Square Market, filling cups with bright agua fresca (fruit water) and doling out tri-colored ice pops. She’s already sold out of one flavor, and it’s only her first stop of the day: later, she’ll take her sweet and savory creations to Core El Centro’s rooftop market.
Her business, Algo Dulce, means “something sweet” in Spanish, and sweet it is: she specializes in made-from-scratch paletas, or ice pops, in flavors inspired by her Latinx tradition — like mango-tamarind dipped in lime juice and dusted with chili powder, roasted beet and hibiscus with mint and ginger, coffee with vegan cashew lavender horchata, and sweet corn with Mexican caramel sauce.
Throughout the summer, Alvarado-Gonzalez has delighted customers with her frosty, fruity treats at Westown Farmers Market, Fondy Farmers Market, Washington Park, Alice’s Garden and other venues around Milwaukee. In addition to paletas, she also sells vasos de fruta (Mexican fruit cups with her own special blend of chamoy, a savory sauce). Agua fresca is her best seller.
While paleta stands are a mainstay in her family’s native Mexico City, Alvarado-Gonzalez was dismayed when she discovered that many of the biggest ice-pop producers locally were white-owned. “It was hard seeing a business appropriating something that’s traditionally a staple of my culture,” she explains. “It set me on a different path. I got really upset about it, and I thought that I could be upset or I could do something about it.”
And so the idea of Algo Dulce was born. “I set out to show people what authentic Mexican food is,” she says.
She moved quickly, organizing her business and raising the necessary funds to get started, and then made her debut at the Westown Farmers Market this June.
“I chose farmers markets as the place to sell my products because I’d love to see more presence from the Latinx community at farmers markets,” she explains. “If one person comes to see me, that makes an impact.”
She turns to other local small businesses for her ingredients so that “as I bloom, they can grow, too.” Committed to creating an environmentally conscious business, she uses biodegradable and compostable packaging.
While the entrepreneurial life is new to Alvarado-Gonzalez, cooking has been a lifelong passion. By age 10, she was browsing recipes, watching cooking shows and experimenting in the kitchen. But at age 12, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder so severe that she was later hospitalized. She battled the eating disorder throughout her teenage years.
“Even when I was really sick, I was always cooking for other people because I got joy from it,” she says. “Now that I’m in recovery, cooking — the different flavors and different scents — and just being in the kitchen is very therapeutic for me.”
Alvarado-Gonzalez began pursuing culinary studies but decided that the program’s emphasis on French cuisine wasn’t the right fit. She transferred to Alverno in January to study Sociology, drawn in part by the College’s diversity and the rave reviews of friends who were alumnae.
Throughout her journey, the 23-year-old has kept cooking on the front burner. She worked at Bavette La Boucherie, a restaurant in the Third Ward, where her boss was a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award, and she taught cooking workshops at Escuela Verde, a charter high school. “Cooking consumes my life!” exclaims Alvarado-Gonzalez, who invites her 3-year-old to help her in the kitchen whenever possible.
She dreams of one day starting a farm-to- table Mexican restaurant set in the countryside. In the meantime, she’s working on a cooperative effort to launch an indoor market that would highlight diverse vendors during the fall and winter months.
“When you think of farmers markets, they tend to be very elitist,” she says. “I’d like to develop a more culturally sensitive farmers market that’s accessible to immigrants.”