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Paloma in front of the counter at Fruit Land

Juggling classwork and her small business, recent NKU graduate Paloma Villasana created the after-school hangout spot she once dreamed of.

Though Florence, Kentucky’s Fruit Land may specialize in colorful frozen treats, it’s quite unlike your typical ice cream shop, says the store’s founder, Paloma Villasana. Inspired by the sweet, spicy, and fresh fruit-infused fare that Villasana remembers enjoying at fruterías and neverías while growing up in Arizona, along the Mexican border, it is a one-stop shop for lavish fruit cups, shaved ice and savory snacks.

“When I lived there, you could find a bunch of these kinds of stores on every corner,” she says. “We were so used to going once a week after school with my friends, and that’s what I was looking for when I went to Boone County High School in Florence. I wanted a hangout spot.”

Thus, Fruit Land was born in 2021—two years before Villasana would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business information systems. Though juggling a small business and schoolwork has been a challenge, it’s a decision that she wishes she’d made even earlier.

“I’m so happy I started out a little bit ahead,” she says. “I stayed focused on it and didn’t want to let the business go.”

"That’s what I was looking for when I went to Boone County High School in Florence. I wanted a hangout spot."

Prior to setting up the shop, Villasana hadn’t always planned on being her own boss. She actually changed her major twice, first from medicine, and then from social work. 

“I was working in warehouses as well as my dad’s landscaping company,” she says. “We came up with the idea to start something new of our own here, and my suggestion was to start a place that sold shaved ice, ice cream and fresh fruit. One day, I just started researching how to start a business and the requirements. This also came with a change of major to business information systems, because I was interested in doing coding or programming.”

While at NKU, Villasana was closely involved with the Latinos Avanzando Mentorship Program (LAMP), even getting the chance to hand out samples of dishes from Fruit Land at two of their events. She also joined the Haile Women in Business organization, which she says had a major impact on her life both in and outside of the store, teaching her that valuing her mental and physical health is imperative as a business owner.

Villasana cites Marketing and Accounting as two of the courses that have helped her the most in her current career. 

“Accounting was a general education class, but it helped me out a lot,” she says. “I learned how to do my taxes as a business, what practices I should avoid and what things I needed to focus on.”

When Villasana opened Fruit Land, it was important to her that the shop was geared to audiences of all ages.

“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just for little kids,” she says. “That’s one big audience that I have but this is also a place you can bring your friends on the weekend or bring your whole family.”

There’s plenty of menu options to satisfy any palate. Customers can select from a vast array of fruit salads—complete with a spicy infusion chamoy and Tajín—crepes, milkshakes and loaded chips. Their most popular item? Mangonadas: cups of mango sorbet, chopped fresh mango and a tamarind straw.

On top of inventive recipes, Villasana prides herself on offering the freshest produce possible, hand-picking each fruit to ensure its quality.

“My mom is really good at choosing fruit,” she says. “She’s taught me a lot. That’s a skill that a lot of people might not think about, but it’s a real process to go through.”

Now that Villasana has more time to focus on Fruit Land, she hopes to expand the business’ scope.

“We have a lot of the local Hispanic community coming out, which is probably the biggest portion of our clients, and they’ve been responding really well,” she says. “Now we plan on setting up the second Fruit Land closer towards Cincinnati to offer a bigger crowd the opportunity to explore our authentic flavors.”

About This Article

September 2023

Written by
Jude Noel ('18)
Communications Specialist, NKU Magazine