While growing up in San Andres Bukid, Manila, I have fond memories of the so-called ‘Dirty’ Ice Cream sold by ambulant vendors or sorbeteros pushing their multicolored wooden carts around the streets of the neighbourhood. These ice cream men would signal their presence to valued customers by shaking handheld bells, rousing up us kids from our afternoon siesta. We would then run towards the sorbetero, clutching the precious centavos in our hands, excited for the refreshing taste of cool, sweet treats scooped on crispy orange-colored apa or brown, sweet sugar cones.
According to Rolando Cusi, a 48-year-old ice cream producer based in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, calling this all-time favorite Pinoy snack “dirty” seems so unfair and out of touch with what it really is.
“Such a reputation on dirty ice cream is so unfair, if you ask me. Our ice cream factory here in Dagupan City makes it a point to produce and sell clean ice cream with fresh, natural ingredients like fruits that are in season, cheese and chocolate. The ice cream that we make and serve are not only delicious but also nutritious,” Rolando explained.
Rolando, along with his brother, Edwin, revived the business of their late father, Nestor, who started his career as a sorbetero or ice cream vendor and became one of the three well-known and respected ice cream manufacturers in Dagupan City. Nestor’s ice Cream was one of the products acknowledged by the city government as “Dagupan’s Best.”
Rolando explained that from the 1950s until the early 2000s, there were only three ice cream factories operating in Dagupan City. Their multicoloured wooden carts were always seen plying the busy streets and parked near public and private schools—the Kapalaran, Bagong Sikat and Nestor’s Ice Cream. Kapalaran has already closed their ice cream business while Bagong Sikat, which now has a few ice cream carts, continues to operate and is currently run by a son of the owner.
When asked about the history of Nestor’s Ice Cream, Rolando said that three young friends who came from the province of Batangas decided to relocate to Dagupan a couple of years before it was proclaimed a city in 1947. The two of them decided to put up ice cream factories in Dagupan—the Kapalaran and Bagong Sikat ice cream factories—and his father, who was so poor back then, began his career in the ice cream business as a sorbetero or ice cream vendor.
After relocating in Dagupan, it wasn’t long before Nestor met Liduvina Estrada who soon became his wife. To support his wife and their children, he worked odd jobs like working as a dishwasher in the kitchen of a restaurant. Liduvina on the other hand was a labandera who did the laundry of families in their neighborhood.
“Our father was only able to finish Grade 2 and our mother was a high school graduate. When we were still young, our parents always told us to study hard do our very best in school so we won’t experience the difficult life they went through. He told us that ‘as long as I am strong and able to do things, I will support you,’” Rolando stressed.
The Cusi patriarch kept his word to his children and through his constant peddling of ice cream and the support of their mother two of Rolando’s sisters were able to finish their courses in civil engineering and dentistry. After graduating from her course in dentistry, Suzanne worked abroad and sent money back to her father who decided then to establish his own ice cream factory in 1986, and life for the Cusi family became a little easier.
“Because of our parent’s hard work, perseverance and ice cream business, all of us Cusi siblings were able to go to school and finish our college education. Two are civil engineers, one is a dentist, one a doctor, another finished medical technology, one is a public accountant and one finished nursing,” said Rolando, who is an aviation electronics engineer.
One day while still employed in their respective jobs, the Cusi brothers and sisters met and decided to revive the ice cream business that Nestor put up back in 1986, as a tribute to their hardworking father. The Cusi brothers are directly engaged in the ice cream business with Rolando involved in finance, research and development while Edwin is in charge of marketing.
“I am familiar with the ins and outs of the ice cream making business. When I was young I was there helping my father, from the actual making of ice cream to managing the business. So I was able to run the business on my own when our mother was hospitalized in Manila and our father had to stay in the hospital and look after her,” said Rolando.
Rolando is very proud of the ice cream that his father has come up with, which is sweet, thick and chewy in taste and texture, unlike the other ice cream products peddled by the other ice cream businesses in Dagupan City that are soft and watery.
People should stop calling it dirty ice cream. The products that Nestor’s Ice Cream makes could even be cleaner and healthier than the commercial cream which could even have preservatives. When making Nestor’s Ice Cream, Rolando stressed that they make it a point to use only natural ingredients like fresh fruit, fresh coconut milk, chocolates and cheese. They don’t use or mix extracts, artificial flavoring or food coloring to their ice cream.
Nestor’s Ice Cream factory has been accepting orders from valued customers, especially those familiar with the delicious taste and consistency of their ice cream products. Rolando said their best selling ice cream flavours are avocado, ube, mango, pineapple, cheese, vanilla and chocolate. They also have plans to add new products like ice cream in cups and pinipig crunch.
“We are not concerned about the shelf life of our ice cream products because what we produce is good only for the day, or at most, two days,” said Rolando. Looking back in the past, he recalls that his father did not encourage him and his brothers and sisters to go into the business of making ice cream.
“But we want the legacy of our father to continue and we are now using modern technology to create a better product,” said Rolando.
By Jose K. Lirios