What comes to mind when you hear the word “gelato?” Could it be a special ice cream with a slightly different texture? Most people associate “gelato” with Italy, and they would be right. Italians love their gelato and regularly go out for one, much like we do for coffee, meeting friends at the gelato shop, a place to congregate and find out what’s going on with your friends.
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ere in the United States you see gelato creeping into the ice cream aisles at the grocery store, with Breyers, Talenti, and Häagen-Dazs offering flavors. Gelato is similar to ice cream but has less fat in the base and less air churned into it during the freezing process. Thus it is easy to scoop and just not as hard as most ice creams. So the difference is quite subtle; one should remember that in Italian the word “gelato” really means just ice cream.
In Asheville you can now find a colorful gelato cart at many tailgate markets and at parties or events. Sugar and Snow sells freshly made gelato in scrumptious flavors like peach, pistachio, lemon, or salted caramel. Amy Pickett is the adventuresome entrepreneur who has brought this special treat to our area. She discovered gelato in Gaeta, Italy, as a young teenager living the good life as a military brat. Later, at Wake Forest in 2000 she wrote a business plan for her entrepreneurship class that articulated her idea for bringing the gelato experience to the United States. Ultimately, in 2013 she would use that plan as the basis to start her own business. So far she has been working very hard to keep the carts rolling and remain in the black. She truly enjoys being her own boss and being in charge of her own life. It is a daily adventure.
Amy’s attractive Sugar and Snow carts sell four ounce cups and pints, filled with only the freshest ingredients—found locally if at all possible. She buys her milk and cream from Farm to Home Milk, an Asheville company that brings dairy products from places like Maple View Farms (see the June 2014 edition of Capital at Play or go to capitalatplay.com). When ingredients must be sourced outside the region, she buys the best, such as 100% pure ground pistachio butter from Italy. If a fruit is in season, she may feature it—like peach, raspberry, or blueberry. In the fall she offers pumpkin and chai spice; and at Christmas time, gingerbread or peppermint.
Amy makes her gelato a few times a week. Producing out of Blue Ridge Food Ventures has made it possible. “They offer equipment, advice, and solutions. Basically they bill the company by the hour, and I can use their freezer and store items there.” The product is inspected and licensed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture. To maintain its ideal texture, the gelato must include a stabilizer. Because the store bought commercial mix includes gelatin, which is animal based, Amy makes her own stabilizer, using Xanthan gum and locust bean gum, which are derived from plants.
“The users at Blue Ridge are so helpful as are the staff; they share their information and offer advice,” Amy says. “In addition, my amazing friends have come to my aid, when I get overwhelmed and need help working multiple events on the same day. In fact even my brother has come up from Charleston to pitch in and help.”
The Sugar and Snow cart is easily noticeable, as it is decorated with inviting graphics and cheerful colors. Amy goes to many tailgate markets in Asheville. Her website is the best way to find out where she will be on a particular day. A friend in Nashville, who owns a retail shop called “Legato Gelato,” led her to the graphic design firm, Anderson Design Group. They walked her through the many options for graphics, fonts, and design possibilities until they landed on an attractive logo and the design for the cart. Amy has a portable table top freezer as well, which she takes to catered events. These are used for an “employee appreciation event” or birthday parties with kids clamoring for another scoop of delicious gelato. In July the Sugar & Snow cart could be found at the Ramble, offering gelato to 750 guests for their annual neighborhood event. And Amy will be doing Bridal Show and Wedding conventions in Asheville and Greenville as well.
So what has Amy enjoyed the most about this venture? She finds that being in control of her own schedule means a great deal. It does mean that she has to work hard, in fact very hard, to keep the operation running smoothly. She is in charge of sales, ordering ingredients, hiring, acquiring needed licenses, taking care of the financial paperwork, developing new ideas—just about everything. It is important to have everything run smoothly and to monitor expenses as the business grows. New products in the works include a hazelnut meringue cookie gelato sandwich and gelato push pops. In addition, she is pursuing ways to wholesale her gelato and sorbet to allow people to buy pints at a convenient location. There are many opportunities to expand her product, if only she can get the time to do it. This is a one woman show. Many pieces of the business have just fallen into place. “After all, I just started in 2013,” Amy said.