We’re the founders of Iorio’s Gelato - Mary and Nick Lemmer, siblings, business partners, and historically opponents of Beanie Baby fights in our childhood basement. This is the story of how Iorio’s Gelato came to be.
We were inspired to start Iorio’s by our family heritage and somewhat selfish desire to enjoy authentic Italian treats from our youth years spent with our Italian family, anytime of year in Michigan.
Our great grandparents, Luigi and Maria Iorio (pronounced “ee-or-ee-oe”) immigrated with their family to Philadelphia from Morrone del Sannio, Italy. A young and hungry entrepreneur, Luigi built apartments, houses, and opened a general store. Little did he know, his Italian roots, strong work ethic, and determination to create a comfortable life for his family would go on to inspire his great grandchildren many years later...
We spent our summers visiting our family in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and it became a regular practice to enjoy Italian water ice, typically served out of a small freezer food cart. Back in Michigan, Italian water ice would be nowhere to be found. Rather than wait to visit the east coast to enjoy this tasty summer treat, we decided to bring the treat to Michigan. With the love, support, and seed investment from their parents, we were in business with an Italian ice cart of our own. We started the business in 2004. At the time, Mary was barely a teenager and Nick’s voice hadn’t changed yet (this is the reason why Nick started out his Iorio’s career doing less outbound marketing and more behind the scenes operations). The original name, “Iorio Italian Ice” was inspired by our hardworking, entrepreneurial great grandfather Iorio. Plus, we didn’t know better at the time to choose a name that people could easily spell and pronounce.
Lots of blood, sweat, tears, and stickiness later, Iorio Italian Ice grew into a local summer hit! People of Michigan loved the thirst-quenching and refreshing summer treat. They liked it so much they would ask where the retail store was located. The business was only on wheels at the time, but enough people were interested in buying from a store, that we seriously started to consider what a retail expansion would look like.
We discovered the Lansing City Market, which was the perfect venue for a retail presence, without needing our own space. We were able to have an open space along with other food vendors in a historic building near the capital of the state.
A trip to Italy, dozens of gelaterias, and hundreds of gelato samplings later, Mary was inspired to bring gelato back to Michigan. Gelato is an important part of Italian culture, as commonplace as a coffee, and there are over 20,000 gelaterias in Italy, with very few in the U.S. and even fewer in Michigan. Plus it’s delicious even during the cold Michigan winter!
We both ended up going to the University of Michigan, and when Mary graduated in 2010 we had a great opportunity to open our first store in Ann Arbor. We transformed an old cell phone accessory store into a slice of Italy, smack dab in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. It has become a safe haven for students hiding from homework, recovering from an exam, or celebrating a special moment with a significant other or friend. Families and students alike enjoy the tasty treat to brighten their day, no matter what the weather!
The Iorio’s Gelato journey continues, with our newest store in East Lansing. Though we’ve been in Wolverine-country for several years now, we’re excited to share the sweetness with the Spartans too, bringing our authentic Italian gelato and coffee, in partnership with Zingerman’s, to the Trowbridge Center.
We look forward to meeting you and building our future story together.
Mary and Nick Lemmer