Johnny Gelato: John Mallegol and Meagen Fiore

johnny gelato1Father and daughter combo John Mallegol and Meagen Fiore took on a punishing challenge: to make the newest and best small-batch gelato in the Hudson Valley. The flavors, which range from honey lavender to olive oil to peanut butter fudge, will make you pick up a spoon, unbutton your shorts and scoop away. Their gelato, an Italian-style frozen treat, follows the meticulously sourced all-natural formula to a fault—the fault being one doesn’t stop after the first spoonful. Small batch varieties like black cherry cardamom, jalapeno lime and cake batter turn tasting efforts into purchases, particularly from area restaurants who negotiate exclusives. Johnny Gelato’s inviting, bright red raspberry is perfectly tangy. (It takes 3 pounds of raspberries to make one 5 quart tub.) Entire offices salivate at the thought of Johnny Gelato’s renowned sea salt caramel, more sweet than saline in flavor (it may divide the potato chip lovers from the sweet tooth’s); it’s so delicious you could eat it warm. Ditto expresso with cocoa nibs and seasonal pumpkin.
After a year learning to freeze frame her gelato-making skills, Meagen and John opened a retail store in Carmel, making it from scratch—“very important to quality and sale-ability,” he notes. “And comparable to Europe.” Thanks to a small business loan from Community Capital New York, the two make old fashioned gelato—a healthy calorie intake, as it’s made with milk rather than ice cream’s heavy cream—available at farmer’s markets and at wholesale, as well as in their shop. Note to self: ice cream sandwiches are so addictive that one man returns every other day for his half dozen mint gelato and home-made cookie sandwich. “He says he can live on them.” And apparently does.
How did you get into the gelato business?
John: We had a café in Somers, which we started back in 2002. I went to the Javitts Center for a restaurant show and came back and figured if we wanted to grow, we had to learn something different. We took a year off, then Meagen took a formal course in gelato-making.

How did your business evolve?
The initial expense was equipment, and it’s key. With the batch freezer configured for ice cream, you put one gallon in and 2 ½ gallons comes out because it’s full of air and ice crystals. With gelato, you put in one gallon and you get one gallon out, that’s why it’s so creamy. There’s no air or ice. The loan from Community Capital enabled us to buy equipment to do our farmer’s markets. We bought tents, coolers, tables, and beautiful banners to put up. It helped us to reach out and cultivate another source of income, as well as add freezers here for cakes, pints and ice cream sandwiches. Right now 60% of our business is retail and 40% is wholesale and markets. For the wholesale market, I knocked on restaurant doors, going in the back door with samples and spoons for chefs. Meagen designed the logo, and came up with our branded lettering, as well as ‘You’re Loved’ and ‘Thank You’s, packs of six gift-certificates which sell well as gifts for a teacher, a coach, the bus driver or a child, particularly at the end of the school year in June.

What’s the best advice you got along the way?
To write a business plan. We wrote up job descriptions, and we keep going back to those. The plan keeps us focused, and we can refer back to it to see if we’re on target or off, and modify.

What did you wish you knew?
I wish I realized the number of hours we have to put in to be successful at retail. We’ve also learned to scale back on employees, and now only have one working part time (10 hours a week). From a control point of view and an economic point of view, we needed to be here to have the exposure to our customers. We’re also more careful how we buy supplies, buying in bulk from better sources at better prices.

When did you know you’d arrived?
When we sold to the Trump Golf Course; ‘the Donald’ could be eating our gelato.

What’s next?
Opening additional retail locations for Johnny Gelato, and expanding the wholesale business until it exceeds retail. And eating healthy. I’m on spinach salad with anchovies every night and have dropped 20 pounds. I still haven’t given up ‘research’—trying Meagen’s new flavors. It’s a creative enterprise.

Meagen, who recently gave birth to twins Cora and Lilly, is just returning as a working mother.
1110 New York 52, Carmel, NY 10512
(845) 225-0076