In a lot of ways, Norma Corral personifies the American Dream.
She moved from her native Chihuahua, Mexico, more than two decades ago to Schuyler to work at the Cargill factory there in hopes of providing a better life for her young daughter. But 15 years ago she saw a need to provide young people like her daughter a place to have fun when she was growing up and decided to do something about it rather than wait around for someone to address it. Since then, she's been the proud owner of the thriving Paleteria Oasis ice cream shop in the heart of downtown.
"It feels good," Corral said, through her daughter who served as a translator for her mom as she continues to work on her English. "I feel accomplished."
Although the business is in Schuyler, Corral and her daughter, Cindy, said they frequently have patrons from Columbus coming in. People choosing to make the trek means a great deal to them.
The ice cream shop concept came about because Corral thought it would present itself as a wholesome, family place, and because there wasn't a place to get a sweet treat in town. The shop has and continues to feature an assortment of Blue Bunny and Ashby's Sterling flavors, with the memorable 'superhero' vanilla that turns your tongue red and blue among the most popular (at least with the kiddos).
But it's about far more than ice cream for the longtime business owner, who has done her best to create a snack haven that pays tribute to her upbringing in Mexico in many ways. It starts with the business' name, Paleteria, which roughly translates into "ice cream" in English, she noted. Popular menu items inspired from her past include PapaNachos (nachos made from homemade potato chips), Strawberries and Cream, as well as Chilindrinas (Mexican snack made up of flour chicharrón topped with shredded cabbage, pork rinds, tomato, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese).
Then there's the corn on the cob, or in a cup, depending on one's preference. The dish features corn mixed with mayonnaise, parmesan cheese and chili powder. Don't knock it until you've tried it, the businesswoman and her daughter said.
"It's not what you expect, but it's very good," Cindy Corral said.
Schuyler teenager Yahir Catalan was among the many kids inside the establishment on a recent afternoon. He said Paleteria is a special spot.
"It's very good. I like ice cream a lot," he said. "It's a place you can go to and cool down."
Never satisfied, Corral continually tries to expand what she offers patrons. She's exploring the idea of featuring hot coffee, chocolate and tea, among others, in the future.
"Every year, I'm always trying to come up with something new," she said, with a smile.
More recently, she has been whipping up homemade ice pops out of water, and in some cases, milk, combined with natural fruits. Flavors vary across the spectrum, ranging from pistachio, coconut, mango, bubble gum, vanilla strawberry, Cajeta (Mexican caramel) and her latest, eggnog. Corral gets help from her family in making the ice pops, though her specific recipes for flavors are something only she knows.
Although the business is typically only open April-September, Corral has four part-time employees (two adults, two students), all of whom are bilingual. Her daughter said seeing her mom start out many years ago with little and accomplishing so much has been inspiring.
Despite all of her success, it's apparent Corral is most proud of creating a space that has become a community hub. She said when she first opened her business a majority of her patrons were Hispanic. Since then, despite race relations in the country at a tipping point as of late, Corral said she has people of all races coming from not just Columbus and Schuyler, but also Albion, Fremont, Omaha and Lincoln, and enjoying time together.
In her mind, that's the "American Dream."
"It's all great, but there's still much more I would like to do to improve this ice cream shop," she said, noting she's wanting to find ways to stay open year-round down the road. "I started out doing this for my child, and it has become a place for my grandchildren, for everybody."
Cindy Corral said those who travel 25 minutes east from Columbus will head back home with smiles after visiting her mother's shop.
"We'll guarantee it's worth the drive," she said. "We would like to thank everyone who has made the trip and tried our items. Hopefully, we'll have more people from Columbus come and see what it's all about."
Paleteria Oasis is at 310 E. 11th St. in Schuyler and open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It can be reached at 402-615-0223.
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.