Caffé Gelato: A Few Scoops of Sicily in Chicago

Jessica Geiger

Caffe Gelato exterior look

Even though it may not feel like summer, believe it or not Chicagoans, it is just around the corner. And what better way to spend a hot day in the city than with a cool Italian treat like gelato? This creamy delight is like American ice cream, but churned slower, allowing for less ice and air which really brings out the flavor of the refreshing treat. On top of that, it’s also healthier: lower in both calories and fat, helping everyone keep their beach bods in check. I’ve been hearing a lot about Caffé Gelato, a gelato shop (AKA a gelateria) in the heart of Wicker Park, just off Division and Damen.  I stopped in for a chat with part-owner and manager of the family owned spot, Vince Geraci, about bringing Sicilian-style gelato to Chicago.

Can you give me a rundown of the history of Caffé Gelato?

We started about seven years ago when we went on vacation for the first time to Sicily with my parents to see their hometown of Gaccamo. When we were on our way there, my dad told me, “We have to try this gelato. I haven’t had it since the last time I was here.” I said, “Alright, let’s try it.” So, my family and I went to have this gelato and ever since then we were having it morning, lunch and dinner!

I remember that’s exactly how it was when I was in Italy! I felt like I had to stop in at every corner gelateria I saw!

Welcoming interior and product selections

[Laughs] That’s right! It was on every corner! …So, it was three days since we had gotten back to the States and I couldn’t stop thinking about the gelato! Like, “Come on, Pop! We gotta open something here, in Chicago!” And ya know, I was just thinking about gelato, I wasn’t thinking about business, and he thought it was a good idea. We went back to Sicily and through family friends we started making our contacts. And that’s how it got started.

So why did you pick Wicker Park to open up your shop?

Well, we saw the big sidewalks and the area was destined to change a lot.

You were so right. Wicker Park has changed so much in the past seven years. How has your business changed within that time?

Actually, we’ve still got a lot of people that have been coming since day one and we’re getting a lot of new people. With being around for this long, we keep getting busier and busier each season because we’re only open March 1 through October 31.

So you’ve got a lot of regulars that come in?

There are those guys that are always like, “Oh, I just want pistachio” or “Coconut and mango” or there’s this lady that always comes in for her 2% latte. There’s always the teacher, the cop, the lawyer, the local realtor.

Sounds like you’ve really established yourself as a neighborhood favorite. What do you feel Caffé Gelato brings to the Wicker Park?

Caffé Gelato provides a family feel. It’s a place you can go on a date and not spend a lot of money, or just go to after dinner. It’s truly an authentic place that we brought to Chicago. We didn’t wanna open up another Baskin-Robbins. We wanted to open something authentic that brought us back to Italy without paying the thousand dollar airfare. [laughs]

What can you tell me about your gelato?

Gelato, we like to say, is half of the fat but more of the flavor, and essentially that’s what it is. We don’t use false flavoring; we don’t do anything like that. [If] the flavor is hazelnut, we buy the best hazelnut. We go to Sicily and get the wild-grown hazelnuts or pistachios, they make it into a paste, and that’s what we use to make our gelato. For the fruit flavors, we use actual fruits. It’s all natural. It’s all wholesome food. We make it every morning.

Do you always have the same flavors available or does it vary day to day?

Rich flavors of gelato

We change our flavors through seasons. Like, for October (our last month) we do pumpkin. So I make it into a pumpkin pie kind of gelato. In the summer we focus a lot on fruits…but, we  keep a lot of the staple items, like pistachio. If we took that away, we’d have a lot of angry customers—and hazelnut! Every gelateria, in order to be able to say they’re a gelateria, has to have hazelnut. That’s what they judge gelato shops by in Italy: their hazelnut.

You serve coffee too, right? Can you tell me about that?

We buy our coffee beans directly from the small farmers, like from Sumantra or El Salvador, all depending on what climate is going on there. For instance, we were buying from Mexico for a little bit, but then they had some big thunderstorms so we couldn’t buy from there anymore, so we had to find another farm.

I know that it’s more than about gelato and coffee here. What else do you sell?

We do gelato, coffee, and paninis. Those are our three. Well, and then our pastries. [Laughs] So, those are our four main things. We don’t really wanna go any bigger than that, because we want to keep it small but keep the quality, ya know?

Do you offer your paninis during all business hours or are they only available at certain times?

After five o’clock we don’t make the paninis because we get a long line [for gelato after dinner].

Before I grab a scoop of my own, my final question has to be, what is your favorite flavor?

Nociola is my favorite, hazelnut. It was my first.

So this summer, stop by to cool off at Caffé Gelato and grab a scoop of this creamy Italian treat.  Who knows, maybe your first will be your favorite.

Check It Out!

Caffé Gelato
http://www.caffegelatochicago.com
2034 W Division
Chicago, IL 60622
773.227.7333

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