Gelato Love

By:
Tim Vanderpool, Jacob Chinn photo

It started out, as the best businesses do, with a driving passion. In this case, the object of desire for UA alumni Jeffrey Kaiserman ’03 and Stephen Ochoa ’03 was a frozen Italian delicacy called gelato. Both men discovered its gustatory charms while in Europe and returned with dreams of translating their gelato-love into a thriving business. 

So began the rise for two young visionaries who graduated with communications degrees in 2003, opened their fledgling Frost gelato shop in 2005, and earned the very first Emergent Entrepreneurs Award from the UA’s Eller College of Management in 2006.

Turns out they had discovered a niche just beginning to stir. Today, Frost boasts nearly a dozen shops, in spots ranging from Tucson to Kuwait. Their success is due to hard work, market smarts — and exquisite timing. “The American demand for artisan foods is on fire right now,” says Ochoa. “That has helped us grow, to the point that Trip Advisor has now rated Frost the top food destination in Tucson.”

It all dates back to one hot summer in Rome, when they were casting about for refreshment and came across a gelateria. The chilled, silky experience followed them home, and follow-up research revealed that the United States was nearly a gelato desert.

Of course, we have ice cream galore. But it’s not the same. Gelato contains much less butterfat — only 3 to 8 percent, compared to 20 percent for many ice creams — which directly translates into a punchier flavor. And while ice cream is churned to contain more than 75 percent air, gelato has less than a quarter of that.

But all gelatos are not created equal. “The production process can be done very easily,” says Ochoa. “Or it can be done the old-fashioned, traditional way, which is how we produce it. The traditional way is called the hot process and involves blending and baking the ingredients into the milk. It’s a two-and-a-half hour process that can create about 15 pans of gelato. The ingredients are imported directly from Italy — it’s the Old World style.”

The result is a cornucopia of stunning flavors, from honey and hazelnut to tangelo, all overseen by gelato master Nazario Melchionda from Bologna, Italy.  

Meanwhile, spreading the word about this frozen delicacy also requires a bit of Gelato 101. “Educating our customers is one of the key components of the Frost experience,” says Ochoa. “The flavor is so much more intense, and the creaminess factor is so much more than American ice cream. Essentially, it’s much better for you than American ice cream, yet has much more intense flavor.” With more butterfat, such as in ice cream, “your flavor receptors can’t taste as much,” he says. “The texture is much denser.”

If that isn’t overwhelming enough, consider the summer sorbets. Flavors rotate each month, and they’re equally alluring: pink grapefruit, kiwi, chili mango, even a margarita sorbet on Cinco de Mayo. And for the calorie-conscious, the pay-off is even better: “The sorbet process uses ingredients that are all fat-free and dairy-free,” says Ochoa.  “We’re just using fresh fruit, sugar and water. It’s a pretty simple process.”

Simple and beautiful — like love, frozen in time.