PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A NE Portland ice cream shop owner is branching out to create out with a Mexican cantina in the Cully Neighborhood.

Nico Vergara owns Nico’s Ice Cream shop, where he serves up New Zealand-style sweets with a Latin influence. On Sept. 24, just a few blocks away from his ice cream store, Vergara will open Nico’s Cantina.

From the dishes to the interior design, every aspect of Nico’s Cantina will have an authentic touch.

“If you go to a cantina specifically in Guadalajara, you will see yellow walls … You will see booths with light brown leather. So just little details, the tiling on the doorway, the napkin holders, little details kind of all over that create that authentic sense,” Vergara said.

At Nico’s Cantina, even the small bowls for botanas (the Spanish word for snacks) and salsa, are from Guadalajara, a place Vergara has a personal connection to.
“I personally lived in Guadalajara for about a year, and I have aunts and uncles that live there and cousins that live there. So that’s the tie-in kind of the connection to the cantina culture,” said Vergara, the co-owner of the cantina.

Vergara said he’s proud to bring that cantina culture into NE Portland, where he was raised.

“I think there’s a lot of beautiful neighborhoods in Portland, but Cully and Rose City are real beautiful neighborhoods and Cully predominantly has a Latinx community, which is even more so meaningful for me and for this project,” he said.

It’s also meaningful for experienced co-owner Portland-native Marcus Oliver as well. Oliver, also known for his Mississippi Ave. restaurant, Miss Delta, is putting his experience and expertise behind Vergara as a friend and mentor.

“It’s super cool. You know, I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now and been through the highs and the lows,” Oliver said. “(Nico’s) driven and he’s really good at what he does.”

Their collaboration on the menu finds inspiration from some of Vergara’s favorite comforting meals.

“I kind of had him run me through what he was looking for, what his grandmas and aunts would, you know, feed him, and the flavors that he reminisced about. And then we kind of recreated those in our approach to these tacos,” Oliver said.       

Together, they want this cantina can be a place that brings people together in Cully for great meals and memories.

“I think it’s really, really special to be in this neighborhood. I think it’s a neighborhood that gets overseen,” Vergara said.

Nico’s Cantina plans to open toward the end of September. Vergara also plans to open Nico’s Coffee in October, also in Northeast Portland, at 30th and Emerson, near Killingsworth Street.