How did the idea of opening a gelato shop come to you?
I've had a passion for cooking in me since I was a child, when I used to help my mother in the kitchen…even though, to be honest, it was more about scrubbing pots than anything else!
At home I do the cooking and it's a pleasure for me to invite friends and relatives to dinner so they can test the results of my "hard work". Together with fruit, I've always considered gelato as a unique dessert, which made it a rather natural choice to turn it into my profession.
The Frescapassione project arose from long talks with my wife Cristiana, who supported me with all her strength, which was vital given that we were making such a radical change in our lives.
What made you choose to change your lifestyle?
A series of factors. First of all, the company offered me the possibility of a good severance package which I used for the extensive initial investments: I was given the chance to volunteer for personnel cutbacks, which in my case was a long and laborious process which I applied for in 2007 and my request was granted only in December 2008, right at the start of the crisis.
Then, my wife's support was fundamental as well as our desire to work on something of our own that would have good prospects for growth and in the end could also create jobs for other people.
After that, my age: I still had plenty of energy to deal with changes and at the same time, I was aware that I couldn't wait much longer.
And last but not least, the desire to be creative, to work on producing something concrete that could be appreciated by potential customers and would also allow me to have person-to-person contact.
What reactions did you get from people close to you?
There were various types of reactions. I got support and respect from my colleagues at work (such as "Good for you that you're brave enough, good job, I've also got my back-up plan but for now I'm staying here, unless they kick me out"... let's say that anyone who works with computers understands my decision very well), and total approval from some relatives and friends, as well as total disapproval (such as "Andrea's gone crazy again!").
What training did you have?
I attended the course for professional gelato makers at the Italian Gelato-making School at the University of Flavors of Perugia Università dei Sapori di Perugia, four weeks that I thoroughly recommend to anyone intending to go down this path consciously. The course teaches you not only the secrets of the profession, but also some very important marketing and communications concepts, which are vital for anyone who wants to know how to sell his own product. In the end, I also went on an internship at the gelato shop run by Paolo Bettelli in Gubbio and at Ronald Tellini's gelato shop in Almé (Province of Bergamo), where I received very many useful hints and advice.
Then I attended a three-day course in Malaga taught by Pino Scaringella, which, personally, helped dispel any lingering doubts that I still had. Putting together the course in Perugia and Pino's course, now I'm able to develop recipes at my desk, with good results at the first attempt. Recently I invented the Orson Welles flavor, made with chocolate with a 64% cocoa content and Muscatel wine from Malaga, in which Malaga orange peels have been left to soak in the refrigerator for at least two days.
For reasons connected with my previous job; I've been living abroad with my family since 1998. I worked in Madrid for 5 years before my life-change. Staying in Spain seemed natural to us, due to the things we have in common and the fact that there are very few hand-made gelato shops. Marbella seemed to us like the right place thanks to its local climate, with very long summers and mild winters.
In Spain opening a business is pretty simple; there was some bureaucracy but it was at a reasonable level.
The main difficulty for us was the international crisis, which made financing and loans that had already been granted (and on which we were counting, obviously) disappear all of a sudden just a couple of days before the machinery and the gelato cabinets were going to be sent to us.
How much knowledge of hand-made gelato is there?
In Andalusia (Southern Spain) people are very resistant to novelties. Ice cream is traditionally seen as a fattening, unhealthy treat that is best avoided.
In Marbella there are practically no hand-made gelato shops and not everyone realises what hand-made gelato means and how it's different from industrially made ice cream. So we have to educate our customers bit by bit, but whoever discovers us brings friends and becomes attached to our products.
I remember that when we opened, the majority of our customers were unaware of the existence of fruit sorbets: they thought all gelato was made with milk and cream. Only after some time did they "dare" to try them and discover a new dimension: now if I don't want them to be angry, I have to be sure that at least one-fourth of my production every day consists of sorbets!
Do you have problems getting raw materials?
I order dried fruit pastes and similar items from Italy (pistachios from Bronte, hazelnuts from Piedmont, organic licorice from Calabria, etc.) with no trouble, while I buy fresh products such as milk, cream, and fruit from local suppliers.
Until some time ago I bought part of my sugar in Spain and part in Italy, and then I finally found a good Spanish supplier for the types of sugar that I hadn’t been able to find here before.
An initial assessment and your plans for the future?
After a little more than a year working, my assessment is positive: our customers come back, bringing their friends; new customers come in after trying our gelato at other people's homes or just because they've heard of us; some customers reviewed us on trip-advisor and this brought us new customers. And then some restaurants have become regular clients of ours. Our sales are growing in spite of the terrible crisis, which has meant an almost complete absence of foreign tourists from Marbella this year. Certainly, due to the lack of support from banks and the local community, we have to stand completely on our own feet, and this is very difficult and not reassuring at all....
For the future we're considering various ideas. In the short term, obviously, to increase our customers, both private individuals and restaurants or bars, as well as increasing our product range and our personnel.
In the medium to long term, the idea is to expand our model (only fresh maximum-quality products with low fat and total control of our own recipes in terms of texture, body, resistance to cold, sweetness, and flavor) through franchising or a similar system.
Let's end up with our classic question, which is useful to many readers of this column: what would you recommend to anyone wanting to become a gelato-maker?
1. Before taking this step, I would recommend working a couple of weeks at a building site or in road construction, spreading boiling tar under the burning sun: if after that you still feel like going ahead, then do, otherwise you’d do better to forget it. Although it's gratifying, from the outside you don't have any idea of how hard a job it can be to run a gelato shop (very long working hours, every day of the week, at least during the summer).
2. If you want to sleep soundly at night, get started only if you're certain that you can cover the initial expenses and still have at least ten thousand euros left in funds. No matter how much advice you receive, you will always make wrong purchases and realise there’s something you need that you haven't bought.
3. It’s no gold mine:making and selling gelato is hard and it's difficult to survive your first years in business. If you aren't highly motivated and passionate, forget it. But if you are, then go for it – this job gives you tons of satisfaction! You can't imagine how lovely it is to see people give you recognition for your hard work and to receive sincere congratulations for a job well done.
4. Don't ever get tired of studying and questioning what you've learned as you go along. Read books, attend courses, learn from your experience.
"Fresca passione" is located in the center of Marbella, at calle Rámon de la Serna 1, on the corner of Avenida Arias Maldonado.