ROGERS PARK — Raphael Macias' fleet of ice cream carts has the Rogers Park frozen food vendor market cornered.
And Macias, the 40-year-old owner of Paleteria La Monarca, headquartered at 6955 N. Clark St., expects at least a couple more weeks of good business as summer winds down.
"I'll give it two more weeks," Macias said this week from inside the Clark Street shop, two doors over from his family's Mexican bakery, "and then it'll take a nose dive."
So, out back, 10 private contractors loaded up carts with dry ice, ice cream bars and an assortment of Mexican popsicles called paletas at the beginning of September's late-summer heat wave, which isn't the best omen for business.
"When it gets super hot, it's slow," Macias said. "When it's 95-100 [degrees], forget it."
Sure enough, the next day, temps hit that dreaded 95.
More likely than not, any given ice cream cart that rolls through a neighborhood park or past a neighborhood school belongs to Macias and his family.
It all started in 1990 — 23 years ago this month — when his parents, laid-off factory workers, founded Panaderia Ayutla, a Mexican bakery. Then they bought the neighboring building and the Ace Hardware franchise that occupied it.
The ice cream business started with just carts in 1997, but by 2002 they closed the hardware store and opened a storefront next door to sell Italian ice and ice cream by the scoop.
"It just snowballed," Macias said, even though the neighborhood has changed over the years.
Macias brother, Jorge, helps out around the business and lives in an apartment above the bakery — "I don't have to travel too far for work," he said.
The 37-year-old said the neighborhood is safer now than it used to be, but many of their customers have moved away.
For example, apartment buildings one block south were torn down and replaced with the Rogers Park Library and New Field Elementary School. The building's tenants had brought in a lot of business.
"A lot of people that were forced out because those buildings came down will come back for Sunday services right here St. Jerome's, and they'll come to the bakery or here and stock up for the week," said the elder Macias. "It's nice that they'll come back here."
Macias, who completed two tours of duty in Iraq, graduated from Loyola University. He said he owes what he has to the family business.
"That put me through college, that put my sister through college, my brother as well," he said. "It's been pretty good to us."