Any warm July or August night, often long after the other stores have closed, you'll find a line of people waiting outside Stella Luna Gelato's Bank Street cafe for a taste of their award-winning gelato.
Well, the customers think they're lining up for gelato. What Stella Luna's owner Tammy Giuliani sees is her customers doing something Italians do everyday.
“In Rome, going for gelato is an experience,” Giuliani, 55, explains. “You go for a stroll after dinner, you walk and you stop to have a gelato. It's a tradition. Our aim is to make life a pleasure. Coming here is a chance to lift the spirits, celebrate life and experience a little of the Italian lifestyle.”
Based on her husband Alessandro's 100-year-old family recipe, Giuliani and her staff make gelato fresh every morning using eggs, sugar, milk and authentic flavours. Her current favourite of the 30 flavours they make is a double chocolate, dark rum with sour cherries. She's proud of her artisanal recipes that don't include powdered mixes or chemicals.
Giuliani's also put a lot of thought to replicate the gelato cafe's Italian personality. Like the ones she knew in Rome, the shop is bright and colourful; the service, friendly and attentive.
La dolce vita. For the last 10 years, Stella Luna Gelato Cafe been one of the local food industry's happiest success stories. Over time, they opened cafes in Merrickville and Wellington West and won awards for Best Gelato in 2016 and the International Journalist's Choice Award in 2017, the Bank of Montreal's “Women in Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018” and one of Yelp's Top 100 Places to Eat in 2021.
It's odd to think the day they opened the first cafe in Old Ottawa South 10 years ago, Giuliani wasn't sure if anyone would visit her new cafe. Her expectations were modest. By the end of the first day, they sold everything they had, approximately 1,000 servings.
“The line never stopped,” Giuliani recalls. “I slept on the kitchen floor, I was so tired.”
During prime gelato season, in July and August, Stella Luna can sell more than 4,000 pounds of gelato on a summer weekend. While she won't talk about revenues, at $7 a serving, it's a safe guess that business is holding its own.
“We're doing okay,” is all Giuliani will say. “Ottawa is a great place for food because the clientele are diverse and well-travelled.”
Giuliani's romance with the gelato lifestyle began 35 years ago when she went to Rome for a holiday. She met, and instantly fell in love with her husband Alessandro a couple hours after landing. They married four days later and remained in Italy for 10 years. Life in Italy was a revelation for the girl who grew up on a dairy farm on Leitrim Road and Old Ottawa South.
Back in Ottawa, married with three kids but still affected by her years in Italy, Giuliani realized that a little gelato culture would do well in industrious Ottawa. She put together a business plan, and spent a year in Bologna earning a degree as a Master Gelato Maker at the Carpigiani Gelato University.
“It was a huge risk because I was over 40, the mother of three kids,” Giuliani admits. “It took courage, but I've always been a work-in-progress and happiest when I'm serving people.”
Business was good until COVID put the brakes on the economy, and Giuliani considered drastic action to save the business. Facing long lockdowns, Giuliani pivoted the business, adding sandwiches, hot Italian dishes and takeaway in order to quality as an "essential service." The addition of hot food services rescued the business.
“It was a life-and-death situation because this is the only income for three families,” she says. “We've learned to adapt. The summer's been good. August was a turnaround month. People are more confident, there's a lot of local tourism keeping us busy.”