5 things I've learned from 5 years of owning a gelato shop in Ann Arbor
This year marks five years in our beloved store in downtown Ann Arbor. We've learned so much and are so grateful to the community that has made it all possible. Check out this insightful and inspiring piece, written by our very own Mary Lemmer, on a few things she has learned over the past five years.
Today we are celebrating Iorio’s Gelateria’s five year anniversary in Ann Arbor. It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years in Ann Arbor and even harder to believe I’ve been in the gelato business for fifteen years. It seems like just yesterday we were pulling all nighters and sleeping on bean bags, so we could open by our target yet. Doing anything for fifteen years could make me feel old, but we hire a lot of college students, and they keep me young. I also continue to learn in this business.
To celebrate five years in Ann Arbor, in addition to the free gelato we’re handing out from noon to 5 p.m. at our Ann Arbor location, I want to share five things I’ve learned over the past five years as a gelato business owner in Ann Arbor:
- People make all the difference. In Ann Arbor we are surrounded by some of the world’s best and brightest. University of Michigan students have contributed significantly to the success of the business and have certainly made it a fun atmosphere to be around. Our team comprises students from all over the university - business, engineering, music, art history, romance languages - all with at least one thing in common - the appreciation and interest in the Italian gelato culture and bringing that experience to the masses in a way that is positive, supportive, and creative.
- It's more than scooping gelato. That’s because it’s called scaping. It’s more than a job though. It’s a family. Years after our team members graduate from the University of Michigan, move away from Ann Arbor, go work some big corporate gig, they stay in touch and even want to still be involved in the business. Because it was more than a job. It’s a family. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow with other ambitious young people. During the Ann Arbor Art Fair this year we brought back several alumni staff to spend the week with us. We rented a house and enjoyed the hot Art Fair days, reminiscing on old memories, and building new ones. Because we are a family.
- It's about the experience. Someday I’ll share the countless examples of why experience matters more than anything else. Our gelato is good. Heck it’s more than good, it’s great. But it’s more than the gelato. It’s about walking through the front door and instantly feeling like you’re stepping into a gelateria in Florence. It’s about hearing the knowledgeable gelatista explain the flavor “stracciatella”. It’s about sampling every flavor and then deciding to get just one in a cup, or fitting all 24 flavors in one cup because you can’t choose just one or two or three even. It’s about not knowing how to pronounce everything you see on the menu board (“piccolo” is pronounced “peek a low” for instance) and not knowing what every word means, and enjoying the feeling of getting lost in another culture for even just a minute. It’s this experience that sets us apart from any other ice cream or gelato shop. It’s why people come once and come often.
- Commit. Believe in your goals and deadline. People will tell you it’s impossible. Ignore them. Or rather, listen to them, but keep pushing forward anyways. We set an aggressive timeline. We started construction in at the beginning of the year with the goal to open by the first day of Art Fair in mid July. We had more doubters than believers, but that didn’t stop us. We made our opening date. Granted, we didn’t have chairs, but standing is better for us anyways, right?
- It's a sticky business. Gelato is sticky. It melts. That is all.
We couldn’t have done this alone. Outside of the immediate Iorio’s team we have been so fortunate to form an extended family of incredible people supporting us along the way. There are too many to name. You know who you are and you may or may not get a grazie card in the mail!
Grazie to all of our fans, supports, gelato eaters in Ann Arbor and otherwise. If you’ve ever stepped foot inside Iorio’s Gelateria in Ann Arbor, grazie. If you haven’t, there’s still time. We’re planning on another 5 years
Grazie Ann Arbor, vive la dolce vita,
For those of you who don’t know, when we opened Iorio’s Gelateria in Ann Arbor
I was teaching cycling classes at 6 am, spending my days at RPM Ventures, and my nights at an old cell phone accessory store, with a vision to transform
it into an authentic Italian gelateria experience.
Nick was managing the University of Michigan women’s basketball team, and (sometimes) going to classes.