Winner: Best Frozen Treats Shop
What does winning Best of Knoxville mean to you?
I guess it's a prestige thing. We have put in a lot of hours and hard work and the people of Knoxville have validated our dedication. We love what we do and have a lot of appreciation for the Knoxville community.
For the people that don't know, how is gelato and sorbetto different from regular ice cream?
They are both a lot healthier than ice cream. They have half the calories of ice cream and use milk instead of heavy cream. Also, 120 percent of the air is whipped out of ice cream, while gelato still has 30 percent of the air, making it denser, tastier, and creamier. Sorbetto is completely water based, making it lactose friendly. What I love about the two is that you can make it out of anything and they always taste fresh.
What else is on your menu?
We try and set our store up like a traditional European café. The only difference is that we do not sell pizza. We offer panini and our soups have actually won several awards, including the Beardsley Farm cook-off. Tomato basil, chicken toscana, and butternut squash are a few of the soups we have.
What has it been like coming from retirement to starting a popular business in downtown Knoxville?
Well, I [Allen] had just gotten done painting the house that we built for ourselves on the river. I came and sat down with my wife and she realized quickly that she could not stand it. Not very long after that, we sold our new house and decided to open a store downtown. We found the location but still had to wait three and a half years before we could actually open it. With the economic problems at that time and the fact that the floors were falling through, we really had some initial challenges in getting the store running. It was funny; Bill Haslam was the mayor at the time and kept asking when we would be opening. After we told him about the problems we were having with getting any work started on the building, workers showed up the next day and started fixing everything. He stopped in here last week as a matter of fact. He really has helped us a lot and has become a good friend of the business.
Where did your passion for Italian food and gelato come from?
For me [Cherryl] it started in the town I grew up in near Ellis Island. There was a large Italian population and all of my friends were Italian. Allen grew up in Chicago and often went to Little Italy with his friends. We first tasted gelato in Las Vegas about 25 years ago. We both found it to be so elegant and interesting that it became a little hobby of ours. I have a background in design, and used to work for Donald Trump and Wilton industries. For me, gelato became something I could find a passion for and use my talents on.
I've heard you were very meticulous in finding the right coffee to sell in-store.
We didn't even want to sell coffee at first, because we knew how difficult it would be to find a unique and delicious blend that would be the image of our business. It's also very expensive to start. Our espresso machine was $10,000! We went to Coffee Fest in Seattle and spent four days drinking espresso. I don't think we slept for a while. We eventually narrowed our choice down to four different blends, which I believe are the four best in the country. The one we decided on is called Dancing Goats and it turned out to be a great choice. People love it because it is smooth and strong.
Of all of your flavors of gelato, what is the most unique? What about your most popular?
Well that is a tough one to pick… We have had over 150 flavors. One of our flavors that is both unique and popular is RC Cola paired with Moon Pie. We also have tiramisu and a flavor called Elvis, consisting of bananas, peanut butter, and honey. The one flavor that you will find at every gelateria is pistachio. Ours is very fresh and we put real pistachios in the gelato.
Do you have anything new in the works for Coolato Gelato?
Recently, we started selling muffins and bagels, and have started creating gelato cakes. Also, we sell dog gelato, and offer a deal where if a dog drags their owner in, they get free gelato. We also try and benefit breast cancer, by doing a "protect the cups" deal, where we have 50-cent cups of coffee, and proceeds go to breast cancer awareness.