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There’s No Messina-round with Gelato

One of the things about our customers that we find to be incredibly validating is just how different they seem …

By Dave Eagle


One of the things about our customers that we find to be incredibly validating is just how different they seem to be. I don’t mean to say that we have a diverse group of clients–we do, though,in case you were wondering. More than that, Kounta merchants tend to start off with a vision of doing things differently and then find their way to us. Gelato Messina is no different. Even the product is something a bit off the straight and narrow. Anybody can open an ice cream shop, but gelato–which is an italian word that means “we make all the foods better, including ice cream”–is a slightly different animal. It’s churned at a much slower rate than traditional ice cream, so the result is less air in the finished product for a smoother, creamier, frozen custard-like texture and taste. As it turns out, Gelato Messina’s commitment to that slower churn rate is a symbol of a more holistic approach to growing a business. The company recently pulled the plug on two planned openings, one in Melbourne and one in Barangaroo, which is somehow not a joke name made up by comedy writers looking for the most obvious joke name for a region in Australia. It wasn’t that the numbers didn’t look good: it was just with 10 shops already in operation (plus three others on the way) in Australia, and one new one in Las Vegas, the founders of Gelato Messina thought it might be wise to slow down and focus on what they’ve got. That’s not the sort of behavior one would associate with entrepreneurs. They’ve even taken the idea of a shop in Vegas in a counterintuitive direction (for Vegas, anyway). The Gelato Messina there is off the strip, set away from the well beaten tourist path, home of some of the most desirable foot traffic in the world: tipsy, disoriented people looking to spend their money frivolously. Instead, the’ve set up camp in nearby downtown Summerlin, looking instead to serve and build rapport with the locals, which they see as a more sustainable business model.

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Personally, you don’t need to tell me more than the words “Dulce de Leche Gelato” to get me to sign off on a business plan, but that’s why I’m not a loan officer at a bank. That and I thought I’d try to enjoy my life. Ultimately, though, it’s flavors like that which are the reason Gelato Messina exists. It doesn’t matter whether they expand at a snail’s pace, because the aim is to make tasty desserts. There’s a love of craft that’s evident when you hear the options at one of their storefronts: Pear & Spiced Rhubarb; Tiramisu; Salted Caramel; Gianduia, whatever that is. These aren’t the sorts of tastes you’re going to get at a run-of-the-mill ice cream shop. More impressive, they’ve managed to create a menu of sorbets–think Salted Coconut or Coffee & Hazelnut–that sounds tempting even when they’re sitting right next to fancy ice cream. Besides, when business owners look at their success and say something like, “Whoa, slow down there” you know they’re doing something right. And this is the part where I say we’re not going to take credit for their success, but we’ll absolutely insist we made it easier. Sure, it makes running the business easier, but it also takes a load off when it comes to opening new stores. In an article about Gelato Messina in Business Review Weekly, co-founder Declan Lee notes that each new store requires two iPads and $5,000 total to set up their POS. “I still see guys spending $15,000 on these POS systems with big touch screens and servers,” Lee said, presumably before cackling so hard he shot gelato out his nose. Ironically, Lee’s competitors are likely overspending as a result of rushing to decisions. In the slow-churn world of Gelato Messina, they’d rather take the time to do things right.