In 1982, Fiorello Anthony (Tony) Bonviso quit cutting hair and started making gelato. A dedicated family man and grandfather now, many years ago Bonviso trained at Vidal Sassoon. He had a great career, good clients, and was creating a nice life for himself, until he was challenged to create "the best ice cream ever."
At dinner in San Francisco, he would say to his friends, "Save room for ice cream, I know a super place." And everybody would troop over to taste the dense and heavenly dessert Bonviso had discovered. Once he asked the man behind the counter some questions and was told that the process was so proprietary the employee had signed non-disclosure papers. That piqued Bonviso's curiosity.
And so, rather than hair, Bonviso started thinking about Italian ice cream. Although many "how to make ice cream" books were available in the early 1980s, none of the recipes satisfied Bonviso's objective.
Originally, his dream was to own 10 gelato stores, hire a manager for each, have kids scoop the product, and build a plant large enough to supply all the locations. He planned to check in with his managers from various places around the world like Tahiti or Paris.
It took Bonviso a year to figure out how to produce gelato and refine the manufacturing, which requires select ingredients, artisan formulas, custom processes and highly specialized equipment.
The first store was in Novato, where Bonviso lived, with the second in San Fransisco's Cow Hollow. He ran the production facility and wound up managing both retail locations.
Retired ice cream maven, Earl Swensen, a regular Novato customer who had sold both his chain and corporation by that time, once warned Bonviso, "I never met a man who could run more than one ice cream store." With bravado, Bonviso quipped back, "You don't know me very well."
After a time, Bonviso realized the wisdom of Swensen's words. "All I did for 10 years," he said, "was put out fires." So he decided to drop the retail part of his business and continue with manufacturing.
September 20th is their 29th anniversary. Fiorello's has produced more than 200 custom flavors including black sesame, blackberry cabernet, caramel balsamic, blood orange, Tony spumoni and Knob Creek (Old Kentucky) butter pecan, many at the request of culinary professionals. Bonviso just participated in a tomato festival for which he created a tomato watermelon mint gelato.
What's the difference between ice cream and gelato?
Air and butterfat content are the reasons why Italian ice cream, or gelato, is different than American ice cream. By law, American ice cream must have a minimum of 10 percent butterfat. In Italy, the butterfat content can be whatever the manufacturer feels makes his product taste good.
Italian ice cream is made with a lower "overrun," an industry term, which basically means air. Gelato's dense texture and creamy consistency is due to the fact that it contains little or no air.
And in case you were wondering, many flavors of ice cream contain more calories than gelato.
Calculate cost per serving by weight not volume
In retail stores, a pint of Fiorello's brand sells for about $8, while many pints of super premium ice cream sell for $5 to $6. Bonviso suggests customers read labels to see cost per serving by weight not by volume. .
"The $5 pint of another brand might weigh 12 ounces, so the cost per three-ounce serving would be $1.25," Bonviso said. "Fiorello's pint weighs 18 ounces, or 50 percent more, which works out to be $1.33 per three-ounce serving."
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Fiorello's artisan gelato and sorbetto is carried by Whole Foods and United Market in San Rafael. Local restaurants that serve the brand are Il Davide, Vin Antico, Kamikaze in Montecito, and the Seafood Peddler.