Almare Gelato’s Pleasanton expansion going well
By Lou Fancher
It’s good for the Tri-Valley that Simone Arpaio loves people even more than he adores making toasted Almond and Caramelized Fig gelato.
Instead of expanding the menu at the Berkeley Almare Gelato retail shop that his co-owner, Alberto Malvestio, opened in 2008, or enlarging the lucrative Northern California wholesale gelato business that the two natives of northern Italy launched after Arpaio joined Malvestio in 2012, they established a downtown Pleasanton outpost. The gelato shop opened in 2016.
“What we make is not something we cook and sell; it’s an experience,” says Arpaio. “Gelato makes you happy. I love educating people about Italian culture, cooking and the how, why, what of eating.”
Like the Berkeley location, the shop designed to resemble a classic Italian gelateria offers flavors made with slow-churned cream, milk and sugar mixed with nuts, flowers, fresh fruit, Belgian chocolate, vanilla beans and more. Produced at slower speeds than ice cream, gelato features intense flavor. Its lower fat content means it softens and is served at higher temperatures than its American counterpart. In other words, the quality of every ingredient is crucial and a little gelato goes a long way.
“Even in our Cioccolata Calda, a hot chocolate drink that’s thick, not particularly sweet and lower in fat and calories than hot cocoa, the chocolate is incredibly important because it was developed for the royal family in the 18th century,” says Arpaio.
Most people come to Almare less for hot drinks than for customer favorites, like Stracciatella (chocolate chip), Pistacchio, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla Beans, Lavender and Fresh Blueberries or Lemon Cream.
“I acquired customers with my Browned Butter too” says Arpaio. “You cook the butter until brown, then filter it to get dark, warm liquid. With maple syrup and very good cream, it’s grand.”
But Toasted Almond and Caramelized Fig is the across-the-board favorite at both locations.
“People in Pleasanton like classic, simple, ice cream-relatable flavors. They’re knowledgable about the difference between gelato and ice cream. One of the best things is the fact that every single customer says their name, shakes your hand, introduces their families.”
The personal touch, he says, is made even more warm because customers remember his name. “Hey Simone,” is often their greeting on return visits.
Arpaio, 36, is married to an Italian woman who is a preschool teacher in San Francisco. They have a daughter, born Christmas Day in 2015. During his childhood in Turin, Italy, he learned to cook in his family’s food-saturated culture by starting with sweets.
“You make sweets and pasta first. One of my grandmothers in southern Italy made cookies with orange peel and anise. I remember at age 10 learning to mix them. I was keen to try it again and again. I will teach my daughter starting with those.”
And after sweets, Arpaio is likely to include dishes like spezzatino, a slow-cooked beef stew.
“I made it today. Lately, I like cooking meat, to grill the American way, and cakes and budino (pudding), buying groceries — it’s everything, actually.”
In Italy, he says food comes up in every conversation and at every age and social level.
“It’s not a foodie thing. It means you cook every day surrounded by people who consider food essential.”
Although he studied biology and was a construction project manager before visiting the United States and falling in love with the Bay Area’s welcoming atmosphere, his first experience of America came from Hollywood movies.
“That’s how I learned English. I still watch movies almost every night.”
The best way to obtain a visa, Arpaio learned from an immigration lawyer, was to buy a business.
“I considered businesses in Los Angeles, because I loved the movies, but when I found Alberto, it was like a marriage. We share good moments, fight, eat together, make up. I would work with him even if it wasn’t making gelato.”
Malvestio was an engineer in Italy whose great uncle was a master gelato maker. To keep their product pure and ensure generations-old processes remain the standard, the men work six days a week and alternate between stores so one of them is always on the floor. This satisfies Arpaio’s fondness for talking with customers but leaves little time for responding to Yelp reviews.
But in the community, Arpaio’s plans are definitely proactive. He says participating in local civic events, launching a school program to educate kids about nutrition and projects that teach adults about gelato and Italian culture are among the plans as Almare establishes a Tri-Valley foothold. As for Yelp, Arpaio is stoic.
“It’s unsettling because we have no control over it. We believe if we do well, we do well on Yelp. I won’t hire a company to do fake responses. We let Yelp do its work.”