Sweet teeth: Gelato café ups sugar ante

Chances are you've heard all the banging, drilling, and jack-hammering behind that wooden barricade blocking the facade of the former Opportunity Shop on the Downtown Mall. If you've been wondering just what's going on, you're in luck. Let Dish take you behind the barricade for a glimpse at Splendora's, a café owned by Andrea and Fax Ayres, due to open in June.

Named after a friend's noble-sounding Italian grandmother– Splendora di Piemonte– and designed by local Bushman Dreyfus Architects, this sweet shop will be in a different league than Chap's, Arch's, and Ben and Jerry's– more Milan than mainstream Americana, more Vespa than Schwinn, more new-Charlottesville than old.

Of course, right now it looks more like a garage than the chic, colorful café it plans to become. In fact, considering that the entire foundation was just completely re-built with extra-solid floor joists– it could safely support a Hummer. The original floor was good enough to hold racks of blouses and plastic purses, but perhaps not the thousands of pounds of equipment needed to make and display all that light-and-airy Italian-style gelato.

The gelato maker alone (which the Ayres bought from the departed Caldo and Freddo shop at Seminole Square) weighs in at 1000 pounds, as do each of the two gelato cases (when filled), while the mixer is a relative featherweight at 800 pounds. Now you can see why the Ayres had to buy the building.

As for the finished design, here's what we can expect: a large glass wall streetside, a long gelato-dessert-coffee bar along the right wall, vivid colors everywhere (expect lots of warm orange), undulating extra-high benches and tables in the main seating area (to make us all feel like kids), and family-friendly innovations like a child-sized sink for easy clean-ups.

"We wanted Splendora's to have more of a café feeling than most ice-cream parlors, which tend to be cold blue or white," Fax tells Dish. "We really want to create a place that's fun for both adults and children." In other words, a place to hang out as well as take-out.

Now for the sweet part. Splendora's will focus on sweets- 30-40 flavors of gelato as well as seasonal flavors like peppermint stick and pumpkin; lemon, almond, and coffee granita (flavored ice stirred during the freezing process); and other dessert items like semi-freddi (half-frozen, mousse-like desserts usually made in molds) and tiramisu.

Fax will be the sole gelatiere, or gelato-maker, and Andrea, together with an in-house pastry chef, will likely craft some cakes. On the warm side, Splendora's will feature a complete coffee bar and wonders like rich Italian hot chocolate. The store will be open every day but Monday, 11am-10pm. As for prices- well, as I said, Splendora's will be chic, but not necessarily cheap.

Cheaper Scottsville Scoops

As Andrea and Fax prepare to thrill Charlottesville's sweet tooth, prices for all-American ice-cream are falling in Scottsville.

Scoops, the Valley Street ice-cream parlor owned by David Dodge, was sold in March to Buffalo, New York-native Charmaine Linden, who is transforming it into The Towne Restaurant (pizza, wings, burgers, salads) some time this month.

In addition to changing hands, this spot is also switching ice-cream brands. Chap's supplied Scoops, but Linden decided to go with Blue Bunny out of Iowa.

"People here don't have lots of extra money to spend on ice-cream, and Blue Bunny makes excellent ice-cream," Linden tells Dish. She says she'll save $15 per three-gallon compared to Chap's. However, Michael Miller, the manager of Chap's who actually considered buying Scoops, has a different story.

Miller says that Scottsville is going against the trend, since most ice-creameries have had to raise prices due to the increasing costs of dairy mixes.

"People in Scottsville loved our ice-cream and had no trouble paying Scoops' prices," says Miller. "Scoops actually charged more per scoop than we do in Charlottesville, and people paid it gladly."

Gelatophiles have a little longer to wait.