This multimedia piece is the first in a series of small business profiles that Local Tourist will be doing over the next few months. Stella Luna Gelato Café is located at 1103 Bank St. between Sunnyside and Hopewell Avenue.
Hilary Duff is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University and a contributing editor for Local Tourist Ottawa.
Old Ottawa South’s newest business, Stella Luna Gelato Café, is difficult to describe.
Yes, as the name alludes, the shop sells gelato, but as owner Tammy Giuliani says, her café is about so much more than just serving up the classic Italian dessert.
Rather, Stella Luna thrives on fostering a sense of community. Tammy says her aim is to create an environment more similar to that of a neighbourhood get-together than a café, a place where people of all ages can go to relax and unwind from the workday.
Since opening at the end of July, Stella Luna has experienced an incredible start-up boom. In the first few weeks of opening, Tammy says they saw 700 to 900 customers pass through their doors everyday.
That’s a lot of gelato.
“The numbers were just tremendous,” Tammy says. “I think people had been anticipating us for a while. We had time to start a blog and I think it became almost something personal for people, where they could read and follow along.”
This being said, there are already café regulars, such as the couple from India who swear by Tammy’s mango sorbet, claiming it’s almost a perfect duplicate of the quality and flavour they used to get back home.
It’s this high quality of product that Tammy wants to focus on.
Inside Stella Luna’s brightly lit kitchen, a group of certificates is clustered in the corner of one wall, a token to the time spent by Tammy mastering the art of gelato making.
Before the café opened, Tammy traveled to Bologna, Italy to attend a six-week intensive gelato-making course at Carpigiani Gelato University, the first school of its kind in the world.
Here, she was taught all the skills needed to become a true artisan gelato maker.
Unlike many gelato shops that use powder mixes and artificial flavours, when making the gelato for Stella Luna, Tammy says she relies on the real deal: bucketfuls of fruits, chopped nuts and made-in-house syrups.
Listen to Tammy talk about why she chose to make gelato and where she gets her flavour inspiration:
Sitting inconspicuously at the back of the café in a black Stella Luna smock, Tammy doesn’t strike you as the type who would be making gelato.
Her involvement with Italian custom and the traditional dessert started off as a bit of a whirlwind fairy tale. Travelling to Italy when she was 19, Tammy originally intended to stay in the country for six months.
Her plans quickly changed.
Strolling around Rome on her first day, a man pulled up beside her on a motorcycle. She spoke no Italian and he, no English. Three days later near the Spanish Steps, he proposed.
Today, this man is Alessandro Giuliani, the salt-and-pepper haired man that sits next to Tammy at the back of the café. They’ve been together since their very first movie date in Rome 25 years ago.
Fate brought Tammy both her husband and her future occupation.
“I was born and raised in Ottawa on a dairy farm, so it’s kind of ironic that the girl from the dairy farm met the guy from Italy and made gelato,” she laughs.
Throughout their time in Italy, the young couple became something of gelato connoisseurs, eating their way from shop to shop.
“We would always be trying to find the purest taste and creamiest texture. Over the years we came to know what we wanted to taste in a gelato and when we moved back to Canada that taste wasn’t quite there,” she says.
Watch as Tammy shows Local Tourist how to make pistachio gelato:
It was 10 years ago that the plan to open a gelato café first came into being. That plan, however, was put on the backburner in order to raise their three children, Zachary, Erica and Matthew.
A decade later, Tammy said they were finally ready to brush off the old business plan.
After nine months of renovation to their Old Ottawa South location, Tammy and Alessandro transformed the century-old location into a stunning mix of warmth and comfort.
“It was kind of surreal,” Tammy says. “When things started to take shape it was like taking a cartoon and turning it into real life.”
Now, the café is large enough for big families to sit together, but small enough to still remain intimate.
Stella Luna’s menu also reflects the luxurious simplicity the café has strived to accomplish.
When she and Alessandro were first creating the menu for Stella Luna, Tammy says they were considering having an extensive list of products. It wasn’t until later that they decided to focus on the classic Italian delicacies – frappés, granitas, European coffees and, of course, artisan gelato and sorbet.
“The biggest mistake we could make would have been to try and offer everything and not do anything well. Now people are really experiencing a genuine quality,” Tammy says.
Stella Luna is planning on expanding its menu in the upcoming weeks, though, to add gourmet crepes and waffles to their repertoire. The winter season will also bring a change in menu, with plans to add in products like a Madagascar bourbon vanilla gelato with a warm blueberry coulis, hot chocolate and more.
But until the winter, Tammy says she’s just going to keep appreciating the success and community they’ve fostered so far.
“In the evening when all the neighbours walk in, the shop has the ambience of a kitchen party where people get to mingle and talk,” she says. “It’s quite magical when you see people come in and they’re a little bit stressed and then they start eating gelato and their face lights up. It’s fun to watch. To do that is magic.”
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