Marshalltown native officially opens La Michoacana Xtra ice cream shop downtown

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T-R PHOTOS BY ROBERT MAHARRY — La Michoacana Xtra Owner/Operator Maggie Santillan, left, serves a pair of happy customers at her new ice cream shop at 118 W. Main St. in downtown Marshalltown on Tuesday afternoon. Santillan, a 2002 MHS graduate who now resides in the Quad Cities, plans to add coffee, tortas, paninis and walking tacos within the next few weeks.
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By Robert Maharry, Times-Republican

Maggie Santillan may have moved away to Davenport after graduating from Marshalltown High School in 2002, but she never forgot about her hometown.

Santillan, who owns and operates five successful sit-down Mexican restaurants with her husband Ernesto both in the Quad Cities and Iowa City, was first inspired to do something different when she visited her mother in California about six years ago and went to an ice cream shop called La Michoacana. She loved it so much that she wanted to replicate it back in Iowa and make authentic sweet treats with entirely natural flavors.

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At first, she inquired about franchising a La Michoacana location through a friend in Chicago, who instead insisted that he would teach her and let her take it from there. As of last weekend, she officially opened La Michoacana Xtra at 118 W. Main St. inside the former Marla’s Headliner on Main building. Because of the ‘Xtra’ in the name, the store is considered its own completely independent entity.

While the initial interest was sparked almost six years ago, Santillan said she didn’t get serious about making it a reality until the COVID-19 pandemic, when her restaurants were shut down.

“My kids were being schooled online or homeschooled or whatever you want to call it, and I was like ‘Well, what do I do?’ I already cleaned. I already did school with my kids. I’m tired of watching movies. What else do I do?” she asked. “Just starting from there, we would go to Whitey’s. That’s what we have and what we like in the Quad Cities, and we’d just get a whole bunch of ice cream, shakes, whatever, bring it home, eat and watch movies. And I was like ‘I can do something like this.’”

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Maggie Santillan poses for a photo in front of the “Selfie Wall” at La Michoacana Xtra, her new downtown ice cream shop.

Although Marshalltown is a substantially smaller market than the Quad Cities, Santillan was drawn to the community’s potential and the revitalization of the downtown area post-tornado. She explored a few different potential spots both on Main Street and on the south side before deciding that the building she chose would be the easiest for demolition and renovation.

Marshalltown Central Business District Executive Director Deb Millizer, for one, is happy to welcome Santillan into the fold.

“During the MCBD’s 2023 Market Analysis, we heard loud and clear that Marshalltown residents wanted a coffee shop with all day service in the heart of the community. Maggie is a hometown girl, returning to Marshalltown, and opening her coffee and ice cream shop on Main Street. What’s not to love about that?” Millizer asked. “Maggie’s perfect blend of caffeine and creamy delights will bring an additional level of vitality to the Main Street District. Maggie sees the grand vision for downtown, and we know by the feedback we have received that the community is going to embrace La Michoacana. We are as delighted as their ice cream is delicious to have La Michoacana in our neighborhood.”

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Of course, ventures such as these rarely go exactly according to plan, and even after taking possession on Jan. 12, 2023 and getting the demolition done about a month later, work came to a halt as Santillan and her husband got busy with their restaurants back home. She put things back into motion in the fall with hopes of opening before the summer rolls around, and while she doesn’t have the coffee, tortas, paninis, grilled cheese sandwiches and walking tacos quite ready to go yet, Santillan is happy to at least be serving ice cream, bars (paletas), yogurts, fruits and other snacks with a few months to spare — if the demand necessitates it, she may branch out into sugar and dairy free options in the future.

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“I’m thinking in about two weeks, I’ll probably get into that second half,” she said.

For the time being, La Michoacana Xtra will be open every day but Wednesday from 3 to 8 p.m. — on Tuesday, however, she was happy to help a pair of curious customers who walked in before the opening time — and once she starts serving coffee and food, Santillan plans to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. She’ll also gauge when the shop is the busiest and potentially stay open later in the summer depending on when customers are visiting the most.

And even though she has plenty going on back in the community where she currently resides, Santillan is excited to play a part in the revival of her hometown and its Main Street with a shop that’s uniquely her, full of bright colors and a selfie wall with the phrase ‘Life is Sweet’ in front of an array of flowers.

“It feels weirdly cool. I grew up here, and then I moved away from it because I was like ‘Oh, this is a small town. It’s boring, blah blah blah,’” she said. “(Marshalltown is) a smaller town. I wanted to start with this with what I can, and if this is something good, then take it to the Quad Cities. I just feel like this is gonna be something nice (with) potential, and there’s nowhere here that has something like this. I know there’s a couple of the shops that have it, but it’s not to where you sit down and every table has a plug-in and a USB cord. The front has it. The back has it, and I don’t know, I just put a lot of me in here.”

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As for her own recommendations, Santillan said children often gravitate toward colorful ice creams like chiclet (bubble gum) and the cookie monster, while teenagers go for fruitier flavors like mango with chamoy and Tajin. The older customers, she said, might prefer something more basic like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but there’s truly something for everyone with sponge cake, cream cheese, tequila con nuez, mazapan, ferrero rocher, Reese’s Pieces, Oreo and a host of others to choose from.

“My favorite is, if it’s the paleta, it’s either the cocoa or the pine nut. If it’s the ice cream cones, it just depends what mood I’m in. If I want something thicker, I like chocolate, like the cookie monster, but if I want something fresh, then I’ll go for the lime or the mango or something like that.”

At least one customer has already delivered a rave review: during Monday night’s meeting, Marshalltown City Councilor Gary Thompson reported that he had the privilege of visiting the shop after a discussion on the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) and Local Option Sales and Service Tax (LOSST) at the library on Sunday and got a chance to try an ice cream cone for himself.

“I just had a baby cone. It was very good. I just wanted the public to know (that) if any of you want to have an ice cream cone but you’re on a diet, just call me. And I will go up there and have that ice cream cone for you,” Thompson said. “My number’s in the paper. It’s on the city website. I’ll have to sample every flavor. It’ll take me a while. I’m glad to see more businesses downtown, so I like what Deb (Millizer) had to say about the two new businesses downtown and hopefully we’ve got some more coming.”

La Michoacana Xtra can be reached at (641) 758-3358 or found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61556651909736.

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