Small business in Mexico: The Peter Pan syndrome

IN ALMOST every town in Mexico, you will find at least one garish La Michoacana ice-cream parlour, or paleteria. The decor is generally pink, and the ice creams are a rainbow of colours. Flavours include rice pudding, chewing gum and avocado.La Michoacana is a Mexican business success story, possibly as well known as Dunkin’ Donuts is in the United States. But it is not a corporation, nor a brand, nor a franchise. It is a confetti of independent, family-owned ice-cream parlours. To find its roots, you must travel to Tocumbo, a village in the south-western state of Michoacán, where, when your correspondent visited, the funeral was taking place of two youths beheaded by a drug gang the day before. Small consolation, perhaps, that the locals are so proud of their cemetery they say it is a “joy to die”. Everything about Tocumbo, from the plush graves to the towering ice-cream monument as you enter the village, speaks to the wealth generated by La Michoacana ice creams since two villagers started peddling them in Mexico City, 500km (300 miles) away, more than 60 years ago. Over the decades, people…

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