If your New Year's Resolution is to take the plunge and become a street food trader, then give this a read, it’s really rather inspirational! Sandro de Castro spent 15 years in the corporate world before he decided to follow his true passion. He very kindly spoke to us about his experiences in creating his gelato business and having a total career change… With hand crafted recipes inspired by countless trips to Italy, Gelatology make some of the best gelato that London has to offer. Their fantastic flavours and creamy, silky textures are made using only natural ingredients, and they also make gluten free and vegan options that taste just as delicious as traditional recipes. From classic favourites with a refined twist, such as dark chocolate with a pistachio ripple and winemaker’s salt, and a wonderfully simple and zingy lemon sorbet, to unusual savoury offerings such as basil, pine nut and pecorino cheese! They also make delicious boozy gelato, like the Sí Senor! made with rum, lemonade and mint.
Hi Gelatology! Who are you and where do you come from? My name is Sandro de Castro. I was born in Brazil but left the country in my twenties to explore the world. In the meanwhile, I’ve lived in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and the UK and tried to carry with me the best I found in each country. At the moment I’m settled in London with my family and enjoying everything this amazing city has to offer.
When and where did your love of gelato begin? I still remember my first gelato. The year was 1992 and I was visiting Rome. My travel buddy suggested we have a gelato to refresh and when I said I didn’t know what it was she replied “it’s like ice cream, just nicer”. I thought “how can something be nicer than ice cream?!” but of course went along to try. The moment it touched my lips I knew exactly what she meant - so soft, creamy and flavoursome! Ice cream was never the same. Since then, in every single trip I make to Italy (and believe me, there are many!) I chase gelato, hunting for the best creameries in the country, like a devotee on a pilgrimage.
What was your job before Gelatology? I was an education executive for a large multinational company.
What made you decide to become a gelato trader? After 15 years in a corporate industry I decided to take a sabbatical when our first son was born, to take the time to think if my professional life was heading in a direction I really wanted, or if it was time for a change. I researched several options but when the idea of dedicating my life to gelato appeared, I knew there and then that that was what I wanted to do.
Was it hard to take the leap or did you know this was what you wanted to do? My wife and I had actually joked about starting a gelato business a few years earlier on one of our trips to Italy. We were enjoying an amazing gelato in a small shop in the outskirts of Bologna and thinking “why can’t we have THIS in London?!”. She remembered this when I was on my sabbatical and in that moment I was absolutely clear that it was what I wanted to do. I mean, how can one not want to create something that puts a smile on people’s faces? Of course, I then did my due diligence and realised that the gelato industry was experiencing a boom in the UK so it was the right time.
Tell us a little bit about how you created your brand? Well, when you are in the gelato business, there is a huge temptation to pretend to be Italian, because everybody knows that nobody does gelato the way the Italians do. The problem is, although I love Italy and all things Italian (except maybe the bureaucracy), I really wanted our brand to be authentic, so I resisted the temptation of using a cliché Italian name. I am a self-professed nerd and the thing I enjoy most is spending hours on end in the lab tinkering with recipes, so the name Gelatology was an obvious choice. On the one hand it represents the scientific rigour with which Italians (and nerdy me) approach gelato making, and on the other it has this cult-like edge to it. I think it represents well how I feel about gelato, a mixture of science and passion.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? I think everyone is a potential entrepreneur. Some might be able to lead multi billion pound corporate mammoths while others may lead a small one-man business serving their community… both require entrepreneurship. To be honest, I much prefer to be in the lab or interacting with customers telling endless stories about gelato, but I do what is needed to keep the business running, because at the end of the day that’s what allows me to dedicate myself to my passion.
What were the first 3 steps of getting yourself setup? First and foremost, I went to Italy to learn with Italian masters. I knew that nobody makes gelato like the Italians so if I wanted to get it right I had to learn from the source! I did three courses in total - basic, intermediate and advanced, at different schools to experience different approaches to gelato making (By the way, did you know that there is a gelato university in Italy?!). To be honest, I can’t even imagine how I would be making proper gelato without taking those courses.
The second task was to develop the brand. I always knew I didn’t want to have just another gelato shop. I wanted something special that represented how I felt about gelato, so I dedicated a lot of effort and time to this step. This meant hiring a design team that I knew would understand what I had in mind and that’s what the fantastic folks at www.wearecritical.com did.
The third step was arranging all the regulatory and food safety paperwork and to make sure we had complied with absolutely all requirements. For this, my www.NCASS.org.uk membership was invaluable, and all the information and support I needed to navigate the maze of regulatory and legal steps was covered by them.
What has the been the high point of your gelato career so far? Being selected to take part in the UK leg of the prestigious Gelato Festival in Spitalfields in my very first year as a gelatiere was an indescribable honour. I had the opportunity to work side by side with some of the best gelato chefs in the country, which was a priceless experience. I had never handed over so many gelato cones in one day and received so much praise. It really was so much fun!
Have you had any little glitches along the way? Only as many as days trading! Being a mobile caterer means you deal with unexpected situations on a daily basis and I guess that’s one of the things that make it exciting, no two days are alike. Being proactive and creative is the only way I know to deal with it. Thinking fast, being flexible and using my imagination helped get around the difficulties. I learnt during my first season that fellow traders are incredibly helpful and so many times it was a fellow pair of hands that got me out of tricky situations.
Do you have a market stall or a truck? Or both? We distribute our gelato using lovely pedal-powered trikes like in the old days. Apart from being environmentally friendly, it has a great deal of charm and gives us the flexibility to go to where our customers are, be it a festival, a street food market, or a private event. For anyone thinking of starting up and using a bicycle to sell their wares, ours was custom built by the great guys at www.businessonbikes.co.uk.
Where and when can you be found? During the summer season we can be found at Camden Market and at various foodie festivals across London. At any time of the year we can be hired for private events and parties, like weddings, corporate events, etc. We enjoy transforming our service in memorable experiences where guests are entertained with trivia, or they can even make gelato themselves. We can also supply restaurants and specialised food shops with our products and can develop bespoke flavours to any occasion - a crab gelato for a seafood restaurant and a gorgonzola gelato for a cheese bar being two highlights.
What’s your favourite gelato flavour? Today? Our Adalgisa, which is a custard flavoured with real Italian panettone. Tomorrow will be a different one, as it was yesterday!
Where do you see your and your gelato in two years time? I would like to expand our fleet of trikes so I can share gelato love with more people simultaneously. I have the lab plans ready so that we can increase production without compromising on the freshness and artisan character of our gelato, so I look forward to it. Based on the number of requests we have already received for 2018 I believe we are really heading towards this goal and it’s going to be a fantastic year!
Do you have any gelato secrets you might be able to share with us? Our main secret is to use the best and freshest ingredients to make gelato. Nothing beats fresh milk, real pistachios or fresh raspberries! There’s more to gelato than just mixing milk, cream, sugar and a flavour and putting in an ice cream machine. There are little things that make a big difference, like when you cook pasta or prepare a pizza. That’s the nature of Italian food, they are very precise about it without losing any of the passion. The good news is, I am working on a blog in which I will share my recipes and tricks for anyone interested in making true gelato at home, so watch this space!
Gelatology really do make the most intoxicatingly flavoursome and refreshing gelato. Do something different for your next party, corporate event, or your wedding and invite these guys along to cater. You can book Gelatology on Feast It for your event, or if this article has given you a hankering for gelato, pop down to Camden Market Stables from Thursday to Sunday, from one till six.