WALLINGFORD — If you like Mexican food and culture and have a sweet tooth, Martin and Hilaris Martinez have big plans for you.
The West Haven couple has launched a new bakery and will within the next six weeks open a new ice cream store as part of an ongoing $500,000 renovation and expansion of a 10-storefront retail plaza on Route 5. Just south of the intersection of Center and Quinnipiac streets, Wallingford Center Plaza is best-known for being the former home of Stella Pizza and Restaurant, which closed in December after 35 years.
Open since October, Azteca Bakery 23 S. Colony Road, is adjacent to Rey Azteca Ice Cream. The ice cream shop will carry at least 24 flavors of ice cream and 40 flavors of popsicle, Hilaris Martinez said, but that number will likely change.
“We actually want to do as many flavors as possible,” said Martinez, who is 26 and originally from the Dominican Republic. “We will decide which ones will stay and which ones will go, depending on how people like them.”
The ice cream shop, or paleteria, complements the bakery, which officers Mexican dishes such as tres leche cake, a very moist form of cake that features three kinds of milk and natural fruit fillings. Strawberry, peach and pineapple are among the most popular fillings, which are all-natural fruits instead of jellies, Martinez said.
Strawberry, mango, peach and pineapple are also popular flavors for popsicles, or paletas, which differ from American popsicles because they are made with fresh local fruit and lots of it.Another pedestrians’ destination
Joining the Mexican-owned Rivas Taqueria and adjoining Rivas Meat Market at Wallingford Center Plaza, the bakery and ice cream shop continue the influx of Latin American businesses in downtown, which has a sizeable Mexican and Central American population.
If all goes well, the new ice cream store, an Italian restaurant slated to replace Stella Pizza called Natalie’s Apizza, and the aforementioned eateries at Wallingford Center Plaza will add to the collection of bars, cafes, restaurants and other businesses on North Main and Center streets, said Carl Davia, CEO of Davia Investments, LLC., which owns the plaza.
“I want more foot traffic coming in. If we get people to start walking down into the plaza [from Center Street], it will be more of a draw for the whole town,” Davia said.
As part of the $500,000 upgrade, four of the plaza’s 10 storefronts have been remodeled and painted. New asphalt has been laid in the parking lot and new signs will be added to the plaza, said Davia, who owns eight other plazas or multi-family dwellings in Connecticut, including two in North Haven.
The former Stella Pizza space is being totally renovated, and the town has just approved a permit for a large outdoor patio for Natalie’s. Set to be installed by the fall, the patio and some additional landscaping will help make Natalie’s the plaza’s anchor, said Davia, whose son Michael owns the restaurant.
The new entries join a real estate office, vintage furniture restorer, and a kitchen cabinet and counter manufacturer in the plaza. A hair salon will also move into the plaza, which will be at 100 percent capacity with the signing of another lease or rental contract by the end of the month, Davia said.
Davia also hopes to add a 6,000-square-foot mixed commercial and residential building to the plaza, perhaps sometime this fall, he said.A growing family of family businesses
For the Martinez family, the ice cream shop is the couple’s first foray into making Mexican popsicles and ice cream from scratch. It follows their first bakery, also named Azteca Bakery, on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport, said Hilaris Martinez, who is also known as Hillary.
The 39-year-old Martin Martinez comes from a family of bakers. His father, the late Francisco Martinez Sr., owned a bakery in the Mexican state of Puebla before the family emigrated to the U.S. Two of Martin Martinez’s brothers also own bakeries, on Grand Avenue and Lombard Street in New Haven, while the third owns a pool installation business, Hilaris Martinez said.
The couple decided to look to open their second bakery in Wallingford at the urging of customers at the Bridgeport and New Haven stores.
The bakery employs four people while the Martinez’s have yet to hire for the ice cream store. They are looking for someone who is bilingual and knows how to operate Mexican ice cream and popsicle making machines, she said.
Martinez and her husband look forward to the challenge of balancing the demands of both businesses.
“It’s all about value,” Martinez said. “We have noticed that the bakery is really good for the cold months, but in the summer, when people don’t eat as much bread, business is really kind of slow, so why not? With the bakery and the ice cream, we will have a perfect balance year-round.”