A guide to opening a gelato shop or making gelato in your coffee shop, pastry shop or restaurant.
WANT TO GET INTO THE GELATO BUSINESS?
Here is an overview of the main issues that the Guide will be delving into.
The traditional Italian gelato market is very competitive, and if you’re going to make a name for yourself, you’re going to need not only a good high-quality product, but you’ll have to do your research, innovate and offer a variety of products. In addition, you might wish to consider selling other pastry products, such as frozen desserts and gelato cakes alongside your classic gelato, or offering typical bar products, from coffee to aperitifs. In fact, remember that gelato shops sometimes work for just a few months of the year, while gelato cafes can afford to stay open all year round. However, even when gelato is consumed 365 days a year, product variety is a way of ensuring higher sales. But hold on – the main thing is to understand the differences and choose the right solution for the entrepreneur making the investment, for the local area and for the type of clientele you are looking to attract. It is also worthwhile starting to understand what types of gelato are available today and the differences between one solution and another, so as to get an idea of what products to base your business on. Traditional Italian gelato is one of Italy’s best loved exports, the result of a winning combination of fine Italian ingredients and an excellent supply chain. For a hand-crafted gelato, you’ll need to mix everyday ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, water, fruit) with others specifically designed for making gelato (base, milk powder, alternative sugars). In the case of creams, the craft recipe is amalgamated through a heating and chilling process known as pasteurization, which not only binds the various ingredients together but also reduces the bacterial load until it reaches permitted levels that are absolutely safe for the consumer to eat.
This process can take place either in a unit known as a pasteurizer, which is usually made up of a 60- or 120-litre tank, or else through a process whereby smaller quantities of gelato can be made as soon as the chilling step in the pasteurization process has come to a close. Using the pasteurizer, the mixture can be left to stand for between 6 and 12 hours in a phase known as maturation that enables the bonds between the various ingredients in the mixture to stabilize. Once the maturation process is over, or after the chilling step in the combined cycle, the gelato is produced in a phase known as batch freezing, in which the mixture is vigorously blast-chilled, incorporating air into it to create the pleasantly creamy structure we are all familiar with. Depending on the recipe, the temperature at the end of the batch freezing cycle may vary from –8 °C to –12 °C. Fruit gelato can be made with milk or, more frequently, as a sorbet with water. In the latter case, the pasteurization process is unnecessary and the ingredients are incorporated with powerful mixers before the batch freezing process. Gelato temperatures are mainly determined by the amount of sugar used and are usually slightly lower than in creams. After this step, in order to ensure that it is at its best, the gelato is often placed in a blast chiller before being stored and displayed. This can occur either in display cases where the gelato can be seen by customers, or else in Pozzetti-style closed wells. Traditional Italian gelato, which has been so successful in Italy and around the world, therefore requires a range of machinery, equipment and display cases, which we will discuss later, and enables a wide range of flavours to be served up and presented, even in large quantities. One special type of gelato is Soft-Serve Gelato otherwise known as Express Gelato. This is produced in a machine that serves gelato whenever a customer requests it and immediately produces the same amount as has just been sold. This avoids the whole storage phase with all of its investment and gelato quality issues. The softness derives from the fact that in most cases these machines are equipped with a pump that increases the amount of air in the gelato, thereby making it 3-4 °C warmer than hand- crafted gelato. On the down side, a soft serve machine can normally only produce two gelato flavours plus the mix, thus limiting the number of flavours available. Machines of this type are either used in bars and gelato parlours to offer yoghurt flavours with variegations or to offer soft-serve gelato made with Italian ingredients.
Soft-serve or espresso gelato is the most innovative version – a creamy gelato made light and soft by being mixed with air (in a process known as overrun) served at -6 °/7 °C. It requires less equipment, and smaller, cheaper machinery than traditional gelato, but the offer is limited to a small number of flavours, which can be enriched with a whole host of so many other ingredients such as granules, toppings, nuts, candied and fresh fruit. Suitable for bars, restaurants, and self-service gelato parlours, but also for non-specialized gelato parlours, in which gelato is just one of the products sold, together with petits fours, coffees, chocolate and pancakes... Fewer flavours, but also less space and lower investments without sacrificing any perfect freshness, as the mix, which has the same ingredients as traditional gelato, is creamed at the last moment, just before serving. In short, as well as involving lower costs, less knowledge of production methods and less work, while maintaining top quality in the finished product, soft-serve gelato is an interesting solution both in Italy and elsewhere.
Frozen yoghurt is a delightfully fresh product, which features at least 20% fresh yoghurt added to the base mix, which can then be garnished with all sorts of ingredients, ripples, granules, toppings, nuts, candied and fresh fruit. Frozen yoghurt uses the same technology as soft-serve gelato: a batch freezer with a slightly higher cooling point than on the machines used for traditional gelato, which works between -6 and -7°C, leaving a creamy sensation on the palate. The more air is incorporated into the base, the lighter your gelato will be. Frozen yoghurt is a product that is proving extremely popular in various parts of the world. In Italy, it’s more of a hit in seaside resorts and its success is ensured by its fresh yoghurty flavours and its potential for creating imaginative, colourful combinations that customers find delicious and fun, as no two tubs or cones come out the same. The perfect replacement for a meal on a long, sunny summer day.
Gelato cakes and frozen desserts as well as cold petits fours are a perfect opportunity for all types of business, from gelato parlours to pastry shops. Gelato cakes, for example, are an excellent alternative to classic pastry cakes: fresh and tasty, they make it possible to use a wide variety of different ingredients. They have a base made up of two or three flavours of traditional Italian gelato, embellished with very tasty ingredients, which are often not found in traditional gelatos, such as dried fruit or sponge, solid chocolate- based decorations or mirror glazes. Another fascinating category is made up of frozen petits fours: from pralines to mignons, all the great classics of Italian pastry can be combined with traditional Italian gelato. Gelato cake is a very complete and remarkable dessert.
Another timeless classic of cold pastries is the semifreddo or frozen dessert, which is made with the same ingredients as traditional Italian gelato and which, despite being served at -16 °/-18 °C stays soft and creamy, ideal for eating with a spoon. To a base made up of egg yolks and whipped cream, add sugars, thickeners and stabilizers and finally flavoured pastes for cream or fruit flavours. Decoration and combinations are crucial for a delicious, top-quality product that is also a treat for the eye.
Gelato on a stick and gelato biscuits street food is back in vogue, a creative variant on the Italian tradition of cones and tubs. It is also a useful addition to the menu of any traditional gelato parlour. From “paleteria mexicana” to classic gelato on a stick, there are seemingly endless ways of coming up with new products to satisfy the tastes of adults and children alike. There are plenty of machines on the market that – in the blink of an eye – will create the perfect serving of gelato for this type of product. You can also pour f reshly creamed gelato into silicone moulds and pop it into a blast chiller for a few minutes to lower the temperature of the gelato sticks, which will need to be put on show in a separate display case and at lower temperatures than traditional gelato. Gelatos on a stick can be either fruit- or cream-based. In the former, the percentage of fruit can range from 20 to 70% depending on the type of fruit you want to use, while when it comes to creams you’re very much spoiled for choice. Both fruit- and cream-based gelatos on a stick can be covered with melted chocolate and decorated with granules of dried fruit and coconut flakes or whatever your imagination can come up with. The gelato biscuit is a delicious alternative, which can be served in various sizes: from larger biscuits that you can customize with creams and glazes, to mini-sized products which give customers a tasty morsel of gelato. Much loved by young and old alike, they are often displayed in vertical showcases in a huge variety of flavours, together with gelatos on a stick or modern cakes.
COSTS AND INVESTMENTS
In general, people looking to open a gelato parlour are passionate about the sector and moved by the desire to do something creative. That said, opening up a gelato shop means taking on an “entrepreneurial” risk – given that, according to the original idea, the initial investment can be quite substantial. That is why it is so important to come up with a clear strategy, calculating investments, costs and income, risks and opportunities. When looking at the costs of opening up a gelato parlour, we need to start from the product range: as we have just seen, traditional Italian gelato can be made in various ways, in addition to the classic tub – in the form of gelato on a stick, or modern cakes, frozen desserts, coffee or chocolate gelato, granitas or smoothies. You could decide to make just a few creamy express gelato flavours just as happens for soft-serve gelatos, instead of a wide range of flavours for traditional Italian gelato. The choice of what type of products to serve may also be dictated by the size of your premises, whether it has a workshop or not, which will make a huge difference in terms of the original outlay, especially with regard to choosing machinery and equipment, the renovations needed to be carried out and licenses. The offer needs to be defined, understanding what initial investments, costs and revenues will be involved, drawing up a detailed plan of the entrepreneurial formula that will be used.
WHERE TO OPEN A GELATO PARLOUR
If the investments are sizeable, the first analysis to carry out is to decide where to open. This is one of your most important decisions, and to get it right, we advise doing some geomarketing, i.e. assessing the best location for you in relation to the geographical circumstances and the presence of competitors. First, you should weigh up the area: pedestrian or shopping streets, waterfront promenades, and streets leading to schools are all regarded as excellent places for passing traffic, but sometimes the rents can be excessive. You should also take into account how many gelato parlours there are in the immediate vicinity; if you are looking to open a gelato shop where your customers can sit down to eat, and not just take away, easy parking in the vicinity is a big plus. What is more, if we take into consideration the fact that 50% of sales at a standard gelato parlour comes from take-aways, while it is a good idea to look for an area with plenty of passers-by, with offices, schools and universities, it should also have a place where customers can park in the vicinity of the parlour, hop out and purchase themselves some of your gelato. A gelato shop in the city center can charge more, while a point of sale on the outskirts has to adjust its prices to the income of the neighborhood’s residents, which may well be lower.
CAFES, RESTAURANTS, PASTRY SHOPS: EACH TO HIS OWN GELATO
A traditional Italian gelato parlour is by no means the only option for anyone wishing to get into this line of business and makes for an exciting opportunity for anyone who already operates in the food industry: indeed, gelato can be sold in a wide range of premises, from cafes to pastry shops, thanks to the new technological advances provided by Italian companies in terms of ingredients as well as machinery, which is rapidly becoming one of the sector’s leading products. Serving traditional Italian gelato at a point of sale which also sells other products is a good way of increasing sales and not just during the summer season, either. But most of all, various types of product for different times of day can help to attract gelato customers on a year-round basis, and make the most of the numerous opportunities to enjoy a gelato throughout the day, at breakfast, lunch or dinner, but also as a mid-morning or tea-time snack. The positive prospect of higher turnover however obviously requires various licenses to be purchased, more space and well-trained staff for different functions, equipment and, often, even tables and chairs. But let’s take a good look right now at the main directives which apply if you have – or wish to start up – a business serving gelato together with other products. Want to sell gelato in your pastry shop? In a pastry shop, gelato can come in a whole variety of guises, such as a frozen yoghurt version or as a gelato cake or as a soft-serve gelato, or else as a fun gelato on a stick, thus offering customers a sufficiently wide assortment of types of gelato. Of course, in a pastry shop, the range of flavours will not be vast, averaging just 5-6 at a time, given that the premises are not given over completely to making traditional Italian gelato, though that does depend also on how much space is available at the point of sale. Sales opportunities will increase, as will your competitive advantage over rival parlours in the area, if you can serve tables with a combination of traditional pastries and gelato, for example, a slice of cake or a mignon with a scoop of gelato on the side. Another excellent alternative when it comes to introducing gelato onto the menu at a pastry shop is soft-serve gelato: machines can make up to 2 flavours, production is extremely simple because there is no need for a pasteurizing machine as the ingredients are mixed cold and poured straight into the machine. The gelato is created instantaneously as soon as the machine is turned on. If you have a whole row of soft-serve machines, you can serve a reasonable range of classic gelato flavours: this is what is known as “express gelato” or soft ice, which in the cone or in the tub can be garnished and decorated at will: with toppings, granules, or candied or fresh fruit.
As mentioned above, gelato can also become a valuable ingredient in the pastry workshop when making gelato cakes where it is of course truly a must. Another solution that is ideal for serving at a pastry shop is the hand-crafted gelato on a stick. You can make it either with gelato or cream. First you create a semi-solid mix and then pour it into silicone moulds. These can then be brought down to the right temperature in a blast chiller for at least 30 minutes. The bare stick that comes out can be covered with pure chocolate in different flavours: dark, milk, white, coffee, hazelnut, pistachio, plus a smattering of hazelnut, almond or pistachio granules, or else candied fruit. Hand-crafted gelatos on a stick can be stored in a vertical freezer drawer or in a classic gelato display case using special containers. Fancy selling gelato in your bar? In recent years, especially in Italy, serving traditional Italian gelato has proven to be a great success in bars, perhaps only during warmer seasons. The option of a gelato cafe´ is an interesting combination for broadening the menu for your customers. Again, the variety of flavours on offer should be limited to a small number, preferably classic flavours, such as hazelnut, pistachio, cream, chocolate and fiordilatte. The reason for that is sales volumes: it’s better to serve fewer flavours and make your gelato more often, so that your product is always fresh and therefore better quality. The amount of space available for gelato and equipment is the starting point for deciding what extra items to serve. For example, inside your premises you may wish to come up with alternative solutions such as soft-serve gelato machines or else serve hand-crafted gelato on a stick taking into account the variety of flavours and the needs of your customers. As this is not going to be the main product range for your business, the number of machines and other equipment will be limited compared to those at a craft-based gelato parlour, and this will be reflected in a lower number of trays and tubs. There are, however, especially in Italy, also larger gelato cafe´s, serving a wide range of flavours of traditional gelato at the front, with all of the equipment needed out at the back in the workshop. It all depends on how much space you can and want to give over to displaying your flavours, for which you can even use a display case on wheels, to place outside your venue during summer. Are you looking to offer gelato in your restaurant? As for serving top-quality traditional Italian gelato at restaurants and pubs, the situation is still evolving – very few premises make their own real traditional Italian gelato to serve as dessert, or as a special ingredient to use in new experimental recipes. However, things are finally changing, and quality gelato is elbowing its way onto tables at the finest restaurants, where chefs are increasingly inclined to experiment with food pairings, served up with extreme attention to detail. That’s why producers of ingredients and gelato machines are coming up with new products for the market, solutions designed to take up less space inside a restaurant. Restaurant kitchens need to optimize their allocation of space, calibrate quantities and speed up production times: these are three key factors to ensure that their customers will get top-quality food and service. The restaurant scene is an interesting market, both for gelato-makers connecting with the world of catering – enabling the gelato-maker to expand their target market, by selling to restaurants – as well as for chefs wishing to create Michelin star desserts based on sweet or savoury gelato. But how can we serve a good gelato at a restaurant? The range of possibilities is immense: traditional gelato and sorbets, savoury gelato, pastry creams, frozen desserts and Bavarian creams, chocolate specialities and even excellent whipped cream: for each of these recipes, there’s a different machine and special ingredients. In that case it is important to remember that there are combo machines which will mix, pasteurize and whisk in one go. They come in all shapes and sizes – some of them countertop models and others free-standing – enabling you to make a wide range of flavours. There are even small vertical batch freezers for making gelato right in front of your customers. Just choose the one that best suits your needs and which is the right size for your premises.
HOW TO OPEN ALL YEAR BY SELLING OTHER PRODUCTS
Offering a range of products to make gelato consumption less seasonal and to help keep the business open all year round, by extending the gelato season, has become an increasingly strong need, not only for financial reasons but also to respond to an increasingly diversified demand for products on the part of customers. So how can we diversify our production to meet these needs and demands? What are the best products to offer? There is a wide variety. Let’s look at them in detail. Chocolate – bars, loose chocolates and pralines To give the hand-crafted gelato parlour extra creativity and flavour, pralines and loose chocolates are an excellent alternative to hand-crafted gelato, as well as a great way to build customer loyalty and acquire new consumers. Pralines are little chocolate treats filled with a variety of ingredients. Typically hand-made, and decorated in a variety of ways, chocolate pralines can be traced back to an old Belgian tradition. Initially, the term praline, of French origin, referred to a sugar-coated almond. The Belgian master chocolatier, Jean Neuhaus, decided to give a new twist to the traditional praline recipe by covering it with melted chocolate. That was where the chocolate praline tradition first began. Filled with chocolate, hazelnuts, pistachio, orange or coconut, chocolate pralines are tempting imaginative ideas that can also be served up in a hand-crafted gelato parlour. For a feast of flavour and imagination, chocolate pralines can also be filled with gelato. Indeed, the combination of a refined pastry technique and the traditional production of hand-crafted gelato can create true gourmet treats for consumers’ palates and eyes. Gelato cakes As well as being decorative, gelato cakes can be true gourmet masterpieces, bringing a touch of originality to the table. Gelato cakes are mouth-watering and irresistible: from the more classic ones, filled with cream-based flavours and sprinkled with rum, brandy or alkermes, to the more exotic and unusual fruit-based ones with their unusual, colourful toppings.
As far as production techniques are concerned, it is mostly a matter of selecting and using the most appropriate tools, such as moulds, spatulas and various accessories, to shape and mould the frozen cake to your liking. Frozen desserts The semifreddo, as it is known in Italian, is made with the same ingredients as hand-crafted gelato. Add sugars, thickeners and stabilizers to whipped cream to get a useful base. You can then flavour this base just as you would a gelato: a hazelnut or fruit paste, or all the various flavours you would normally find in the showcase of an excellent modern gelato parlour. Decoration and combinations are crucial for a top-quality product that will captivate the imaginations of all types of customer. Bavarian creams This world-famous creamy dessert is a tempting proposition for customers. This historic dessert, consisting of milk, sugar, eggs, fresh cream and gelatine, was first made in France in the 19th century and owes its huge popularity to the reputations of the chefs and mai^tres pa^tissier who were invited to courts throughout Europe to serve up their delicacies to the ruling families. The original version has few frills – just the cream combined, possibly, with a layer of sponge cake dipped in a liqueur or alcoholic syrup. Soon, however, many delicious variations sprang up, combining the dessert with fruit, jams, marmalades, chocolate, coffee and a whole host of other popular flavours. Mignon and bonbons Delicious little morsels such as mini cones and truffles are an explosion of flavour that will win over even the most finicky customer’s palate. And when looking to expand the range of products on offer, how could we forget all the recipes for hand- crafted gelato combined with espresso coffee, not to mention milkshakes, frozen drinks, cocktails and long drinks, whether alcoholic or not, all based around gelato? Diversifying the gelato product range is strategic for your business: it is vital to focus not only on variety but also on formats to mark special occasions, which have no limits in terms of flavour or imagination.