Sam and Enrico became friends while Enrico was working as a chef and Sam doing his training. They ended up running a pub kitchen together in Mile End and when the pub shut down they needed a plan B, so they founded Hackney Gelato. We chatted to Sam about Italy, East London and plans of opening a shop in the area very soon!
How did it all start?
“There’s basically no ice cream in East London and we’d already thought about the idea and when the moment to quit the pub came we said ok let’s do that. Part of Enrico family are from Sicily and we went there for a month or so, to Calabria as well, worked in a couple ice cream places, did a bit of training there, met some suppliers, for machinery and ingredients, made some contacts. Obviously we bought the machinery out there, came back and rented a space in Oval space and set up there for 3 months and cracked on. Obviously no one in Italy gave us their recipes and the ingredients here are very different, the milk, the cream, so we spent a month or two here creating our own bases – lots of trial and error. We taught ourselves everything from scratch. There’s quite a lot of science behind it, it’s not like cooking a steak, you’ve got to balance all the recipes all the fats and sugars and learn about all these different ingredients to use. So it’s been a constant evolution since then, in July 3 years ago. So that’s how we started, just an idea we decided to follow up on. It’s been a lot of hard work for the first couple years and I think this year we’re starting to see a lot of interest around us, we were lucky with the weather as well this summer, we’ve been doing bespoke stuff a lot more too, had a couple people open shops with our ice cream.”
Why this area?
“We both live here.. I lived in Brixton for 6 months and it was hell! I’ve lived here for the best part of 10 years, Enrico lives in Haggerston, our base is in Broadway Market, I live in Victoria park. We’ve always wanted to be focused in this area. The first ice cream shop you find from here is maybe in Angel and then there’s Soho, so that gave us the idea and the strength to go ok there’s definitely a market here, let’s do something a little bit different from what everyone else does. So we set up as a supplier – we do all the traditional Italian flavours but I’m English so we put our British twist on it, try re elaborate some flavours but always using the old Italian techniques. So it’s just about making good ice cream with the best products we can get. We do lots of bespoke stuff, we made 5 new ice creams for a Chinese pop up last week so we’re quite flexible on what we can do, because we’re both chefs and love to create new stuff and try to respond to what people ask us to do which keeps it exciting.”
What does local mean to you?
“This is something that we’ve only really noticed in the last year of our business, it’s so important getting those relationships with customers that are close to you, that know you, that buy into your story. The local thing is so important, we massively overlooked it the first 2 years. Now I know all the shop owners, I go speak to them…building that community. And it works both ways, I’m very happy to serve somebody who’s 5 minutes away and I can go talk to and understand the community, the area. Before we were trying to spread all over London but now the focus is the 2-3 mile radius around us. And I’ve realised it’s not only important for us, it’s important for everybody. For the environment it’s also important, we try buy our food from local shops as much as we can.”
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
“Finding the right location was very difficult because we needed water, electricity, space and somewhere relatively cheap at the start. So we moved a few times, then we found the perfect space but it got bought out and converted into flats so we were out of a place again! Also trying to focus, we were trying to do too many things – we like to be creative and we’ve already got 20 flavours on our list and we’re always doing new ones and trying to keep on top of the variety we do and still keep the quality high is difficult. But we don’t just want to do 10 flavours, it’s boring so the challenge is to keep fresh but still maintain that level. Recruiting staff is now a challenge, because we’re growing and it’s hard to find somebody that buys into your values or work as hard as you and it’s so vital to get the right person to grow the company. Not only someone who’s really good but also likes the idea and wants to be a part of it. It’s your baby and it’s hard to put somebody else in charge!”
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
“Our progression now is to look for a shop. I’ve just today instructed an agent to look for a pop up space for the next couple months and then move onto a permanent one after that. Because it’s frustrating not actually having the customers face to face. So that’s the plan, we want to open a shop and see where it takes us. We want to get a shop, have a little kitchen in the background where we’ve got people experimenting, creating, infusing, cooking, baking… and just being at the forefront of what we do. For people to come and try, get excited about it, not just the selling of the ice cream, we want to be creative and challenging what already exists. The frustrating thing at the moment is that we have to make something that sells. I can make any creative ice cream but if I then don’t have a restaurant who wants it, nobody will see it. So a shop would give that ability to try different stuff without losing what we already do.”
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