Fabio’s Gelato got creative during the lockdown, including exciting new flavours and an online ordering service. Anyone fancy a scoop of The Tiger King?
Husband and wife team Fabio and Hannah Vincenti share a passion for artisan gelato. In June 2015 they opened their first ice-cream parlour in Hermitage Road, Hitchin. They opened a second parlour in Leys Avenue, Letchworth Garden City, in March 2019.
A new career direction
The couple had no relevant experience. Fabio was a computer programmer and Hannah was a childrenswear buyer, so what made them decide to turn their gelato passion into a business venture?
Hannah said: “We holidayed in Italy every summer and our evening trips to the gelaterias were always a highlight. Over the years we came to appreciate that truly great gelato – silky, creamy, rich and full of flavour – is always made by hand in the traditional Italian way, using only the highest-quality ingredients.
“Around 2013 we were becoming increasingly fed up with commuting to London every day. On a whim, I booked us onto a one-day gelato-making course. By the end of it we were both thinking: ‘We can really do this.’”
Fast forward two years and the couple had developed a 53-page business plan and obtained the necessary finance to start up their new business venture.
“We purchased the Hitchin unit lease and ordered the ice-cream equipment,” said Hannah. “It arrived in mid-July 2015, a week before we opened, and we were taught how to formulate the base recipe. We opened just at the point when the schools were closing for the summer. The weather was hot and it was all hands on deck!”
“Lockdown opened up our minds and unlocked new potential for our business”
Life in lockdown
And then came the pandemic.
“Lockdown was a big shock,” said Hannah. “We closed both parlours on 20 March and deep-cleaned them. We had seven freezers full of ice cream, so we decided to advertise our stock online, to see if we could sell it. We didn’t look beyond that target; we just thought: ‘When it’s gone, it’s gone.’”
Fabio used his IT expertise to set up the online ordering system and sales started to rocket. Servicing the high volume of deliveries proved extremely difficult, so after the first two weeks Fabio and Hannah switched to contactless collection. A fortnight later, the freezers were empty and Fabio started making 120 litres of ice cream every week.
News of the online ordering system spread quickly, thanks in no small measure to Fabio’s marketing efforts on Facebook (9,000 followers) and Instagram (10,600 followers). Attention-grabbing competitions and new flavours certainly helped. In fact, The Tiger King (a gelato ripped with dark chocolate chunks and an orange chocolate ganache) went viral.
The community response spurred the couple on during the lockdown. Hannah said: “We were overwhelmed with messages of love and support. To top it all, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation gave us a three-month payment holiday, which was a lifesaver. We really couldn’t have asked for more.”
Open for business
By late May the government was starting to ease the lockdown restrictions.
Fabio and Hannah had spent a lot of time planning how to operate safely in the new normal – a world in which they would not initially be able to offer tasters or cones, tables or seats… or even toilet facilities. They brought their 12 furloughed staff members in for a training day, to brief them on all the new health and safety requirements, including social distancing and food hygiene.
Both parlours reopened on Friday 5 June, much to the delight of the local community.
Reflecting on the lessons learned during the lockdown, Hannah said: “It was really hard work, but it did make us think about our business in a different way. We realised that we could actually boost sales during the lean winter months by doing deliveries to the local community for special occasions like Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
“Lockdown opened up our minds and unlocked new potential for our business.”