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The Brazilian market for hand-made gelato is one of the most interesting on today’s international scene: product quality is improving thanks to the presence of Italian ingredients and equipment-makers, income has grown a lot in recent years and with it has come consumer demand for better quality. So we went to interview Paola Carbone, one of the three co-owners of the Porto Gelato gelato parlour, in Santos, which opened just a few months ago.
What did you do for a living before you opened the gelato parlour?
All three of us are Brazilian - 1 from Santos and 2 from São Paulo and none of us had any experience in the world of gelato. Ricardo and Lucia are engineers whereas I studied hospital administration. Ricardo and I live in São Paulo and Lucia in Santos. All three of us have kept our day jobs (Ricardo has an accounting firm, Lucia runs a container refrigeration firm and I'm a quality analyst at a large hospital). The gelato shop was an opportunity, an investment that at this stage didn’t mean we had to give up our main source of income. Indeed, Porto Gelato opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.) and with 2 staff Lucia runs the gelato parlour until Friday evening, when we come down from Sao Paulo to help her.
Can you tell us why you decided to open a gelato shop in Brazil?
At a time when Mexican Paleterias are very trendy here in Brazil, we decided to do something different and open an Italian gelato parlour in a seaside town, Santos, which did not yet have one. Santos is a seaside town 74 km from Sao Paulo. It has 420,000 inhabitants, and double that during summer, from early December to late February. Tourism and the marketing potential it brings with it were crucial factors.
What did you have to do to open a gelato parlour? Was it problematic?
Before we opened, we visited almost all the gelato parlours in São Paulo and Santos, read a lot and visited various gelato shop websites in Italy. After that we went on a course, looked around for the equipment and for information on the raw materials, on the documents and permits to apply for. Then we started looking for a good location for the parlour, and that was no easy matter: it had to be in a good neighbourhood, close to the beach and in good condition. And it also had to be affordable. After we found the premises, we had to carry out alterations which took about 3 months, and on the 13th of December we finally opened our doors to the public.
Can you tell us briefly about your gelato parlour and the products you sell?
The gelateria is in a small 1930s house that we renovated with the help of a friend of ours who is an architect. The decor is simple, with rustic furniture reminiscent of Italy, which is our source of inspiration (besides the fact that all three of us are of Italian origin). We adapted the house to enable access from outside and we offer 18 gelato flavours, in addition to selling coffee. Our bases are Italian and the remainder of our menu is made up of a huge variety of fruit. So one of us is always on the premises, which means customers are beginning to know and love our place and our gelatos, because they know they’ll always be welcomed with open arms.
What about communication?
Well, we have a Facebook page (Porto Gelato), a website under construction http://www.portogelato.com.br/ and a marketing agency that helps us with all this.
Was it easy to find the raw materials, machinery and equipment?
Yes, via the Internet we came across several Italian companies that have branches or distributors in Brazil, and this helped us a lot. We were able to choose from a vast array of flavours and machinery.
How did you learn the craft of gelato-making and the production methods?
We learned it all on a course at the Carpigiani Gelato University in São Paulo.
Do you think Brazil is an attractive market for gelato?
Definitely, given that the Brazilians are growing to love a good gelato and per capita consumption is increasing. Also because even after the summer, the climate is never very cold and this helps sales throughout the year.
In Brazil, do you think that a gelato shop works better in a mall or on the street?
Here we have gelato shops in both types of premises. Shopping centres are better for parking but if you have a gelato shop on the street you are in the open air, and people can sit outside at the table, which is often important for Brazilians.
In these early months, have you begun to understand Brazilians’ tastes and the market trends?
Before opening, we had a reasonable idea but, as often happens, that changed a little after we opened. But it wasn’t difficult to understand so we were quickly able to adapt to the tastes of our customers and to the market trends.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening a gelato parlour in Brazil?
First of all, you need a clear idea of your costs and your investment capacity. Have a market study done and find suitable premises. After that, you need a good book-keeper to help file all the documentation. And then plenty of patience for permits, authorizations, etc ...
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