July 6, 2006
New Chances for Brain Freeze

Merlino's Freeze, with which Sacramentans have been beating back the summer heat for 60 years, has new owners who are keen on making the icy fruit slushes just as available and popular the other three seasons.

"Merlino's no longer is a seasonal business, it's no longer a summer drink, it's a year-round product that will be available every day of the year," says Jo Jo Martinez, who with his business partner, Javier Ramos, has bought the business from Bob Hemond.

Hemond, an executive with the Sacramento River Cats baseball squad, teamed up with Warren Smith and Matt Re to buy Merlino's in 2000 following bankruptcy of one of the city's culinary icons. Hemond subsequently bought out Smith and Re.

Martinez and Ramos own two branches of the Mr. Pickle's chain of sandwich shops, one along Gerber Road in south Sacramento, the other along Folsom Boulevard in east Sacramento, which had been a Merlino's store.

Martinez and Ramos are making Merlino's freezes available at their two stores, and aggressively are negotiating with other branches of Mr. Pickle's to also carry the products. They're also talking with the fast-growing chain of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants to make available the freezes. They're also eyeing Sacramento International Airport and Old Sacramento. Stands dispensing the freezes already have been set up at Raley Field and the Music Circus, and two will be at the State Fair, said Ramos.

In addition to the original orange, strawberry and lemon flavors, they've added black raspberry, watermelon and pineapple.

No terms of the sale were disclosed. "I'm not comfortable discussing details," said Martinez.

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