New Haven
3:54 pm
Wed May 25, 2011

You Could Stand To Read a Positive Story, Right? About Gelato and Pianos?

People told Giuliana Maravalle she was crazy when she moved her piano bar and gelato factory to a neglected industrial warehouse on Sargent Drive. One year later, she’s ready to expand the business with a new country and western bar, and people are eating her “artisanal” Italian treat from the Boston Symphony to JFK airport thanks to the work of a dozen additional employees.

Maravalle is the owner of 110 Terminal Plaza, LLC, the business that includes two nightclubs and her Gelato Giuliana factory at an eponymous location on Sargent Drive, where her neighbors are wholesale grocery and meat distributors.

Last week marked one year since she had her grand opening in the unlikely location. Also last week, she won approval from the City Plan Commission to expand her nightclub operation with a third venue, a new country-music-themed bar.

She’s also eyeing an expansion of her gelato operation. She moved into the building with three gelato employees. She now has 15, with plans to add a second shift. Click the play arrow above to see how the Italian treat is made.

On a recent morning, Maravalle offered a tour of her factory and the space she plans to transform into a new weekend destination spot for suburban club-goers.

A year ago, Maravalle gave up a prime spot occupied by her popular downtown lounge, Keys To The City. She felt confident taking the dueling-piano bar away from the corner of Chapel and Temple Streets because most of her patrons come from out of town. The new location on Sargent Drive is right by the highway, providing easy access from the shoreline and the valley.

Keys To The City now occupies the first floor of 110 Terminal Plaza. Upstairs is Sargent Peppers, another club, where the DJ cranks out hits from a station inside half a yellow and red VW bus.

Also on the second floor is the gelato factory, where Maravalle showed off two new products she plans to roll out. One is called the “bomba.” It’s a fancy new way of presenting her gelato in a clear plastic case with crumbled topping and chocolate sauce. It’s the kind of treat you might bring to a dinner party in lieu of a bottle of wine, with classier packaging than a regular paper pint, Maravalle said.

Maravalle showed off the “parfait,” a single-serving version of the bomba. And she described the “panini,” her version for a gelato sandwich. With pizzelle encasing a layer of gelato, the panini would be under 100 calories, she said.

Hers is the only gelato company in the state, Maravalle said. And it’s the only “true artisan” gelato producer around, she said. Other gelato companies have big operations that diminish the product quality, partly by introducing air into the gelato. She makes hers in small batches with small machines that create a dense and flavor-filled creamy treat, she said.

Other companies also go heavy on the fats, betraying true gelato, she said. More butterfat makes it more like ice cream, and it diminishes the flavor experience by coating your palate with grease. That’s the trouble with ice cream—the first few bites are the best and then your mouth gets coated with fat, as though you’d just taken a spoonful of olive oil, she said.

But not Gelato Giuliana, Maravalle said. The Italian dessert has only 4 or 6 percent fat, versus most ice creams, which are at least 12 percent fat, she said.

Her attention to crafting flavor seems to be paying sweet dividends. Gelato Giuliana is now sold at the Boston Symphony, at Tanglewood, and at the Delta and American Airlines terminals at JFK airport, Maravalle said. The company has gotten too big to expand any further until her daughter can come help her with it. That has to wait until Maravalle’s toddler granddaughter heads off to first grade.

Maravalle led the way to her production room, where she continued to expound on the small-batch approach to gelato. Behind a curtain of clear plastic strips, her head gelato producer was at work with two others, all wearing blue shower-cap-like hairnets. His name is Nicoli Ulisse, a native of Milan whom Maravelle recruited to oversee her operation.

Maravalle, who’s 61, is also an Italian immigrant. She came from the Adriatic coast to the United States when she was nine years old.