By Maria Baskin
If you have eaten at one of our fine downtown Venice restaurants, you have probably found your way to Ciao Gelato for one of their heavenly gelatos, Italy’s version of ice cream. I recently interviewed one of the owners of Ciao Gelato and a power house of a woman, Daria Nafziger. I asked her how she and her husband/business partner, RJ, made their way from their former life in print/tech sales to owning this cozy little gelato shop on West Venice Avenue.
“Our gelato is such a good product and we feel so passionate about the process. We make our gelato fresh everyday with whole milk not fat, making four ounces of espresso gelato, for example, 160 calories. We also use fresh fruit no purees and we don’t whip it we mix it by hand which makes the gelato richer.” They get their base ingredients, which includes Amaretto (as in Saronno Italian liquor), and their equipment, Carpigiani, from Italy. “We get such satisfaction out of introducing our customers to the authentic experience of our gelato,” she tells me beaming. Whenever possible they make the effort to use local vendors such as Dakin Dairy in Myakka City, Sea Salt Florida out of Bradenton, J and M Herbs from Arcadia and Yummies Donuts in Venice.
“Who creates the different flavors?” I ask. “My husband, RJ, is the genius behind the twenty flavors we carry everyday and more than half change each day.” There are always the eight traditional flavors – Tiramisu`, Pistachio, Peanut Butter, Stracciatella made with Chantilly cream laced with ribbons of chocolate. And then there are the twelve non-traditional flavors – Oreo, mint-chocolate, festive seasonal Peppermint and Candy Cane, Spring Cake, Al Gusto Chocolate, Caramel Sea Salt and Rum Raisin… to mention a few.
As Daria and I talked about Ciao` Gelato, I noticed a group of young women sitting at one of the little café tables in the shop each enjoying a different flavored cone. I walked over, introduced myself and asked, “Why do you come to Ciao Gelato?” “Honestly?” said Emma Szablowski. “It tastes better!” Her friend, Mercedez Weigelt, then added, “Their flavors are so different.” By the time I wrote down their responses, their gelatos were gone but they had that boy-was-that-good look on their faces.
As I turned back to Daria I asked, “How was business this season?”
“Great!” calls out one of her associates, Alessandro, a young man from Italy whom they met at one of the culinary classes RJ attended on the art of making gelato.
“What do the tourists/visitors say about Venice?”
“They love downtown Venice and would love to shop all day!”
“Where are your customers coming from?”
“There is a younger population starting to come and not just tourists from Washington, Colorado, France, Germany, Canada and England. The locals who live, work and shop in Venice are a big part of the growth of downtown. We make sure not to forget them.” During the off season, Ciao Gelato offers a one-dollar-off coupon twice a week in the Gondolier Sun.
I visit Ciao Gelato often and I am never disappointed. If you haven’t stopped in for one of their rich luscious gelatos, you’re denying your taste buds a bit of the divine!