New 'opportunity': Dueling gelatos meet on the Mall

THE DISH- New 'opportunity': Dueling gelatos meet on the Mall


When Chaps announced it would soon be adding a few gelato flavors to its abundant rainbow of ice-cream options, Dish knew there was more to this scoop than a well-established shop's desire to offer its customers something new or trendy. It quivered with the subtle signs of a gelato competition.

You may recall a hint I dropped back in June about a local couple planning to acquire and use Caldo and Freddo's state-of-the-art Italian equipment to bring authentic, artisanal gelato to the Downtown Mall. Well, as plans for this new gelateria congealed over the summer, Chaps owner Tony LaBua, who's been making American-style ice-cream in the same spot for 19 years with adaptations of original recipes he inherited from his southern Italian grandfather, sensed the imminent arrival of a rival.

"People have been asking us for gelato for 20 years," LaBua told Dish, "so when we heard there'd be another shop specializing in gelato opening up soon, we decided now was the time to make it."

LaBua, together with his former apprentice and current gelato-master William Boley, says they have been working on gelato techniques and recipes for months. In a week or so, customers should be able to sample original gelato flavors like cinnamon, melon, and tiramisù. The price? Same as ice-cream.

Speaking of tiramisù-­ or "pick me up" in Italian– LaBua says he's actually glad to have a new competitor.

"Competition is ultimately a great and healthy thing. A new challenge lifts the spirits and reminds us why we love what we do," he says.

At this point, my readers probably have one, if not two questions. "What is gelato?" and "When and where will this new gelateria open?" First things first.

Trendy to some, traditional gelato (jay-LAH-to), which simply means "frozen" in Italian, was invented by the Chinese, modified by the Arabs, and perfected in the 1500s by the Sicilians. (Sicily still boasts the best gelato and granita makers in the world.)

In simple terms, gelato is silkier and creamier than traditional American ice-cream, but also more dense– because no air is whipped into it, and it's kept in higher-temp freezers. Made with milk instead of cream, gelato has a much lower fat-content than ice-cream (6-10% vs. 17-28%), and more intense flavor. Traditionally (i.e. in Italy), gelato doesn't taste sugary-sweet. The flavor comes instead from natural ingredients-­ pistachio, chocolate, hazelnut, lemon.

Now for that second question. Sorry, but Dish still needs to keep names-­ both of the owners and of the actual business-­ a secret. But I can tell you that the owners, two married Darden grads who decided last spring to combine their business savvy with a proven passion for gelato, are currently training with gelato masters like Luciano Ferrari, finalizing their menu of traditional (hazelnut, pistacchio), American (cookies 'n cream), seasonal (pumpkin, cranberry), and specialty flavors and working with local architects Bushman Dreyfus on major renovations of their new Downtown Mall location-­ in the former Opportunity Shop.

In Italy, some of the best gelaterias (gelato shops) tend to be very no-nonsense, since gelato is usually eaten while one is walking around or sitting outside in a glorious piazza. This new gelateria-café, which will offer gelato and sorbetto (sorbet), desserts, and coffees as well as some other still-to-be-decided food (crepes? panini?), will welcome walk-outs but will also offer a smartly designed contemporary-traditional decor and a seating area for more passive enjoyment. Because of the major work required to transform a thrift shop into a sparkling, stylish gelateria, the target opening-date isn't 'til April. Just in time for Fridays After Five.

The new owners also tell Dish that, in addition to their main retail space, they hope to get into the wholesale business as well-­ stocking freezers with their gelato flavors in such places as the Main Street Market. They also look forward to working with local restaurants on custom flavors-­ tomato or rose gelato, anyone? Sounds like a perfect intermezzo or dessert plate accent to me.

Tony LaBua says he welcomes gelato competition.