"For us, gelato symbolizes family in various ways - our family, the dedicated staff, the local community, our valued customers, or the joy of sharing gelato. Family is at the heart of our brand.”
-The Gelato Mafia
Dolce Amore-the Gelato Mafia means the world to Daniela and Giancarlo, a husband and wife team behind the brand―it's not just a treat; it's a piece of their "family" story. Daniela practically grew up in her dad's gelato shop on Commercial Drive in Little Italy, starting her journey with scoops when she was a teenager. For Giancarlo, every visit to Italy, his family's home, is a trip down memory lane filled with the shared sweetness of family and gelato. If you've tasted their delicious gelato, chances are you have it with cozy, happy, or downright fun memories.
In 2017, Daniela and Giancarlo took over the family gelato business and took it into a new course. They put their hearts into it, even when the hurdles of COVID-19 tried to slow them down. They didn't just weather the storm; they expanded, adding a new spot in North Vancouver this July. But then, a fire happened. The Commercial Drive shop, filled with 21 years of family memories, was gone overnight. Amid that heartbreak, Daniela and Giancarlo found strength in the broader sense of "family"―not just relatives, but friends, staff, the community, and loyal customers. Their gelato isn't just about being natural, local, or homemade; it's a living, sweet testament to the family journey.
The new spot and the only shop currently open in North Vancouver, aka LoLo Longe, has a modern lounging vibe with a vibrant display of 28 gelato flavours. Choosing from this playful assortment while chatting with the welcoming staff feels like stepping into a personal dessert haven, igniting a sense of joy. Gelato has a magical ability to turn a day around, and it has been the secret sauce fueling the Gelato Mafia's adventure. They continue to dish out their delicious gelato, true to their motto of "Naturally Made, Criminally Good." Daniela and Giancarlo open up about their journey, sharing a tale of crafting authentic gelato, adding a bit of magic, and navigating the twists life throws their way.
VOICE(V): How did the family gelato business come about?
Daniela(D): Dolce Amore started 21 years ago, in 2002, when my youngest brother was born. With nine kids in our family, our dad wanted to keep us all busy, thinking that staying occupied with work would keep us out of trouble. Although my dad wasn't a big fan of sweets, when he did indulge, he wanted it to be really good. At that time, there were not many gelaterias in Vancouver, and he saw an opportunity in the market.
My sister, Nicoletta, received training straight from Italy and became the first person to make gelato for Dolce Amore. I've been involved with Dolce Amore since I was 14. When Nicoletta left for NYC, she trained me, and I took charge of the business.
Giancarlo and I were only dating when we asked our dad for permission to take over the gelato business. Our dad has always been our biggest cheerleader, and he hardly hesitated to give us his support.
Giancarlo(G): Essentially, we expressed our belief in the untapped potential of the business and our desire to steer it in a new direction. I am a first-generation Canadian who grew up on the North Shore, deeply ingrained in the Italian community and cultural center. Gelato has always held a special place in my heart, and Daniela, having worked at Dolce Amore since the age of 14, shared the same vision for its future.
We were committed to doing things the right way, so to start this journey, we attended the Carpigiani Gelato University just outside of Bologna. There, we studied the science and art of gelato, learned to create recipes from scratch, and absorbed everything there was to know about the craft. After coming back from Gelato University, we invested in gelato carts, and started participating in numerous farmers' markets, establishing a new brand and clientele. The official takeover of the business took place in 2017.
V: How did you transform Dolce Amore, and what led to the new name, the Gelato Mafia?
G: We decided to keep the name Dolce Amore but gave everything a fresh look and called it The Gelato Mafia. Daniela was a criminology major, and came up with the idea when we were creating a new logo. We intentionally picked the name "Gelato Mafia" to turn around the usual Italian Canadian stereotype and make it something positive and fun. On our pint cups, you'll meet our Gelato Mafia Family – our actual family members, each in charge of a group of gelato flavors. Nicoletta, the one who started making gelato, leads the Frutta Family. Daniela's mom, Susan (who's still busy making gelato), runs the Pastry Posse. The Notorious Nuts is my dad Pasquale, and Ted, Daniela's dad, makes up the Choco Crew. The Classy Capos is with my mom Carmelina, and the Bambino Bosses is handled by my brother Massimo, completing our playful and quirky character lineup. They're the faces behind the flavors!
We switched things up from the bold neon colors of the old Dolce Amore and went for a sleek all-black and white style. Quality is our priority, with each flavor packed with at least 80% organic ingredients. We're the first gelato or ice cream maker to use only organic grass-fed milk. We've teamed up with amazing local farmers like Creekside Cheese + Creamery, Avalon Dairy, and Hazelmere Organic for dairy, fruits, and herbs.
Our refined and elevated style is all about capturing the essence of Italian cuisine – simple, high-quality ingredients crafted with precision. Gelato Mafia is all about living by these principles in a quirky and playful way.
D: We craft classic Italian staples like Pistachio, Nocciola, and Tiramisu, alongside whimsical flavors with a Canadian twist, such as Malted Chocolate Cookie Dough. Staying true to tradition, our gelato is always handmade, in small batches, and artisanal. We stick to batches of no more than 10 liters, mixing every flavor by hand. Starting with an empty bucket and individual base ingredients like sugar, cream, and milk, we even make all our mix-ins from scratch – no artificial ingredients. As parents (with baby no.2 on the way!), we prioritize creating treats we feel good about feeding our children.
You'll typically find 28 flavors available, with 4 to 6 new ones introduced every month. Also, we’ve put extra effort into our vegan recipes, ensuring they live up to their promise without being overpowered by coconut milk. The base changes depending on the vegan flavor, and, as always, we make our plant-based milk from scratch – whether it's almond, pistachio, or hazelnut. We encourage everyone to give our vegan flavors a try!
V: Can you share details about your recently opened second location in North Vancouver?
G: In our North Vancouver spot, we run a unique concept called Dolce Amore - Lo Lo Lounge. This location has a liquor license, and at our Affogato Bar, you can enjoy spiked affogatos (a scoop of gelato with a shot of espresso and liquor) featuring amaretto, Kahlua, or Baileys. We introduce new gelato drinks every month, such as gelato martinis. We've become known as the late-night dessert spot on the Drive as we stayed open until 11 pm. The LoLo Lounge, is open every day from 9 am to 11 pm, intends to be a go-to spot for gelato, coffee, pastries, or other drinks after dinner!
V: And the fire at Dolce Amore on Commercial Drive?
D: On the morning of August 22, 2023, a call woke us up from an early-shift staff member reporting a fire on Commercial Drive. Rushing to the shop, we learned that a man sleeping near our front door was awakened by the intense heat, although the fire originated from the back of the shop. This person courageously called the fire department and alerted residents in the upstairs suites. Although we don't know who he is, he undoubtedly saved lives.
Upon arriving at the scene, fire trucks were everywhere, and the inside temperature was said to be around 200 degrees. The damage was extensive, and the cause of the fire remains unknown. All six suites upstairs suffered significant smoke damage, and our shop was destroyed. The entire building now requires extensive renovation. Losing our business wasn't just a material setback; it was the loss of a second home. With 21 years of memories and countless shared moments, it was a place where announcements of pregnancies happened, our wedding photos were taken, and countless hours were spent. While we are determined to return to Commercial Drive, the rebuilding process will undoubtedly take a considerable amount of time.
G: Adding to the challenges, we had just opened our LoLo Lounge in North Vancouver on July 29, 2023, not even a month before the fire. The devastation claimed all our gelato machines, equipment, ingredients, and everything else, leaving us no time to grieve. Instead, we had to focus on getting North Vancouver back on its feet and finding a new space for gelato production.
Currently, we're crafting our gelato in a temporary commissary kitchen, but it still feels like a state of limbo – as if we don't have a true home. The outpouring of generosity from people offering their garages for gelato production has been incredible. Message after message, fellow local businesses extended their support and kitchen space. Even ice cream businesses like Earnest Icecream and Passione Gelato reached out. Our staff members volunteered to help clean up after the fire. It was these gestures that carried us through. The community lifted us, and a significant takeaway from the fire is realizing that what we've built is more than just a scoop of gelato.
V: How can we contribute to supporting your business?
D: Support us by visiting our North Vancouver location, trying our gelato, sharing your stories, and ordering through delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Doordash. Your continued support will keep us moving forward. Dolce Amore is more than a business; it's about family. Behind Dolce Amore, you'll find our family, a network of friends, dedicated staff members, local farmers and producers, and our cherished customers.
V: What does The Gelato Mafia mean to you?