When Nick Palumbo started Gelato Messina, he had one idea in mind: to make the best gelato you can get outside of Italy.
To do this, all the ingredients have to be high quality and real – no high-fructose corn syrup, no fillers or artificial flavourings. If he was going to make a hazelnut gelato, then there were absolutely going to be real hazelnuts used in its creation.
For Palumbo, this was priority number one, and non-negotiable. Together with head chef Donato Toce, Nick approached the creation of every flavour this way: How would they have made it 100 years ago?
And then Messina went ahead answering this question in the most literal way possible, by buying some land and planting a 5,000-tree hazelnut orchard.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right
That alone would be enough of an undertaking for anyone, but the Messina motto seems to be something along the lines of “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
See, there are many different types of hazelnuts, each with its own subtle flavour profile – and really, Messina only needs one type for its gelato. They weren’t just interested in creating the best flavour, they also wanted to do it consistently, and using the same variant of nut each time is the most effective way to do that.
But, although hazelnuts are monoecious (the same tree will grow both male and female flowers), a tree can’t set nuts with its own pollen. In order to grow hazelnuts, you have to cross-pollinate them, which means growing different varieties alongside one another.
Working with the hazelnut growers at FourJay Farms, Palumbo sampled all their varieties and settled on four that could be grown together, and then combined to form the flavour base for the gelato we all know and love today.
That’s a big investment of time and money for one ingredient in one flavour, but it’s also not a surprising move from Messina. This is, after all, the gelato maker that recently purchased Erindale Farm in Numurkah (Country Victoria), now home to 270 Jersey cows which will soon supply all the milk needed to make their gelato.
These leaps into agriculture by a retail gelato shop were really just the logical next step for a company that’s always been hyper-vigilant about the ingredients they use.
“Sourcing our ingredients is something we’ve always done for every single aspect of every single flavour,” said Siân Bishop, Messina’s Brand and Content Manager.
“This meant working with different producers and distributors to ensure that every ingredient was a consistently high-quality whole food – no pastes or flavourings. Owning a part of your supply chain gives you a pretty firm grip on quality control – and keeping it local means everything’s at its freshest,” Bishop explained.
Distinct attention to detail brings the brand to life
That dedication to detail for their product is also present in Messina’s location at the Tramsheds in Sydney. The experience itself is something that they work on making into something very Messina.
“We don’t operate as a traditional ice cream shop,” Bishop said, “There’s no pink, there’s no bright lighting.”
The dark wood, dim lighting, and polished concrete floors were a concerted effort away from convention. Bishop described the space as “somewhere that us as a company, want to hang out.”
That they even have the time to hang out is testament to how efficiently Gelato Messina is doing things.
What started as a small gelato wholesale business has expanded into something we like to call a Big Deal, and keeps getting bigger:
- In addition to its 17 locations across Australia, the brand has also expanded to the USA, with a branch coming soon to Los Angeles, California.
- They don’t just sell ice-cream anymore. Made-to-order cakes are available at any store, or online.
- In 2015, they re-imagined their “Creative Department” – where all the gelato experimentation happened – into a restaurant offering a seven-course degustation menu. The restaurant has eight seats at one table, and a carefully curated seasonal menu aims to transport guests “to an experimental, immersive, indulgent and at times; confronting place.”
Gelato Appreciation and hands-on classes are available in Sydney and Melbourne, which gives customers/fans a chance to see how it’s done behind the scenes, learn how to make gelato, and of course, eat a lot of the stuff too. Customers can then put their newly-learned skills to experimenting at home with the Messina recipe book. How clever!
Staying true to what matters: the passion behind the business
Many foodservice businesses are born from pure passion, and Gelato Messina is no different.
At its heart, making food is a creative endeavor and a labour of love.
Too often, these foundational inspirations for the business have to get pushed aside to make way for the day-to-day management, which can be a seemingly endless stream of tedious (but necessary) chores.
Tallying up sales, bookkeeping, rostering employees, menu updates, inventory management, purchasing, time and attendance – all these isolated tasks take time, and the passions end up taking a backseat to just well, keeping everything running.
Look at what happens though, when the reverse is allowed to take place, and those mandatory tasks aren’t monopolising anyone’s time.
Gelato Messina may have started because of a passion for making an amazing dessert. Left unchecked, that vision for a gelato shop moved beyond simple retail sales – Messina’s become a fully realised brand, taking its business into new territories that only increase the business’s sustainability. Who says the creative jobs don’t pay?