On the surface, working in a gelato shop is all scooping and sampling. But behind the kitchen doors, there's a world of magic. If you are lucky enough to work in a gelato shop like Almare Gelato in Berkeley, you can be a part of that magic.
From Gianduja (Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut) to Roasted Garlic, Almare Gelato has been putting their unique touch on traditional Italian gelato since 2008. Fun fact: they've even served celebrities like Sir Ian McKellen and Jason Segel!
Co-owner of Almare Gelato, Simone, told me about his story and gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of their kitchen. Take notes! This could be you one day.
How did Almare Gelato get its start?
Alberto, my business partner, came to the U.S. from Northern Italy and decided to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, who was a gelato maker in Italy for 60 years.
I’ve always wanted to work in the food business, so at the end of 2011, I bought half of the shop and became his business partner. This shop is just part of our operation. We sell gelato wholesale to restaurants from Palo Alto to Sacramento.
Can you tell me about your process for creating gelato (without giving away Alberto's family secrets, of course)?
Every morning, we make our gelato fresh by hand. Our gelato is made exactly the way it was made in Italy. It starts with the base. The base is like the dough for pizza. With gelato, the milk base is combined with other ingredients like chocolate, vanilla beans, or fruit.
Everything is mixed in the Italian gelato machines, which work more or less like refrigerated washing machines. They have blades that rotate over a frozen cylinder and whip the gelato without making it rock hard. I noticed that you have some rather exotic flavors. What inspires your flavor-making process?
I noticed that you have some rather exotic flavors. What inspires your flavor-making process?
Although we use traditional Italian recipes, we also try to incorporate new flavors. We mostly use imported Italian ingredients, but also carefully select local ingredients and personally buy all the fruit.
Last week, we made cotija cheese and corn gelato, inspired by South American flavors. We also develop flavors based on requests from restaurants. It’s a very nice creative process to work with restaurants because they have constantly changing menus.
What’s your personal favorite flavor?
Toasted Almond and Carmelized Figs!
What challenges do you face as an artisanal gelato shop?
It’s mainly the costs that are very high because we only use premium ingredients, which means we don’t cut corners. Another high expense is the wages because we now have 13 employees and we’re always open 7 days a week from 7 am to almost midnight.
The increase in minimum wage from $8 to $11 in the last 4 years has been a challenge for small businesses. It’s also hard being in Downtown Berkeley, logistically, because we’re always fighting over parking spots. Overall, it’s difficult keeping expenses down.