From Milan to the States with a dream: to open the best ice cream in the west of Italy


When Maria Grazia Zanardi and Donato Giovine moved across the pond from Milan, they had an ambitious dream – to open the best gelateria west of Italy, and they chose Portland. 

US magazine DuVine awarded Gorgeous Gelato the title of Top Gelato Shop in America. When Maria Grazia Zanardi and Donato Giovine moved across the pond from Milan, they had an ambitious dream – to open the best gelateria west of Italy, and they chose Portland. But first they each attended a course in Italy, hers in Perugia and his in Milan.

We asked them about why they opened up a gelateria in the United States and about how to find success in such a far-off, different land, with an Italian product that not everyone knows about.

You got an important award from the DuVine online magazine. Why do you think they chose you?

Good question! I reckon DuVine chose us because our product is delicious and because we take care over every single detail, to make sure ours meets all of the rigorous criteria for Italian gelato.

Why did you decide to invest in a new Italian gelato business?

We’d been dreaming of moving to the States for ages, so we looked into opening up a gelateria and realized there were good business prospects over here.

Do you believe there’s money to be made in the USA with Italian gelato?

This is definitely one of the few countries anywhere in the world where there are no limits to what you can achieve if you put your mind to it, especially in business. Italian gelato has huge potential, as long as it really is Italian and not some dreadful half-way house as has happened with pizza and other Italian specialties.

Is it enough just to offer gelato or do you need other products on your menu?

We also offer other products, as winter here lasts at least six months, but mainly it depends on your location.

What are the main characteristics of American consumers? What type of product do they love?

Most Americans don’t know what gelato is, and as they’re used to being reassured with that fast food of theirs – which is the same all over the country – it’s hard to make a name for yourself. I remember when we first arrived no-one wanted to try hazelnut – our wonderful Italian hazelnut, can you believe it? After 5 years of determination and hard work, we sell lots of it. Americans love sweet things but they don’t want to know there’s any sugar in there!!!! So we need to reassure a potential customer when they walk in that they’re about to have an unforgettable experience, and we allow them to taste plenty of different ones so they can find the flavor they’re looking for. Americans don’t normally travel much, so they’re terrified of the unknown. It’s up to us to stimulate their curiosity. Once they actually try gelato, they regret eating ice cream their whole lives!

Of course, the ones who have been to Italy have already been won over – you see them close their eyes and relive all the wonderful times they’ve had in our lovely country, which they adore.

What do you reckon are the critical success factors for investing in this business?

Unfortunately it’s not enough just to be able to make a good product – you also need good all-round managerial and entrepreneurial skills, as the risks involved are huge.

Also, foreign investors have to meet the requirements set out in the immigration laws. In this country, rules are rules, and there’s no such thing as plea-bargaining.

How do you manage to make the best gelato outside Italy?

Gelato is one of the most delicious things in the world – all you need is excellent ingredients (the best you can find), oodles of passion, an almost maniacal attention to detail and the result is guaranteed.

Have you got any advice for someone looking to open a gelateria in the US?

The United States is a huge and very diverse country, so anyone who opens up will need a lot of courage and plenty of desire to work hard. You’ll need to find out as much as you can about the place where you’re thinking of opening up, and learn to love it, as this will become your new Promised Land, very different from home and yet amazingly attractive.

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