Inside A Lower East Side 'Laboratory' That Makes 300 Strange And Wonderful flavours Of Gelato

laboratorio del gelato, lower east side ice creamBlack Sesame gelato.

Photo: Barbara L. Hanson via Flickr

A burst of lemon with a hint of basil gushes through your mouth. Refreshing, like water, but potent as if you were chewing an actual basil leaf soaked in lemon. The secret behind il laboratorio del gelato’s fresh tasting ice cream/gelato fusion products is real natural fruits and ingredients.”The sorbets are where we really shine,” said Jon Snyder, found of il laboratorio del gelato, a New York-based sorbet and gelato company that sells wholesale to more than 250 local eateries and recently opened an uber-trendy location on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. “The flavour comes out and you can tell how pure it is.”

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The company, which turns 10 in August, churns out more than 300 wacky flavours including carob, celery, wasabi, amaretto crunch, and chocolate malt. In the coming months, you’ll be able to find their product in Whole Foods and other New York specialty stores.

Snyder has a history with ice cream, so when he made it his mission to make his product the new “go-to” gelato for New York City chefs, he had the credentials to back it up.

Snyder’s grandparents owned a Carvel stand in the 1950s, which was his introduction to ice cream and small businesses. After a trip to Italy, where Snyder fell in love with gelato, he founded Ciao Bella, now available everywhere from Dean and Deluca to WalMart. From 1983 to 1989, he ran a small Ciao Bella storefront and got the product into about 60 locations in New York City.

“I really burnt myself out those first few years at Ciao Bella,” Snyder, now 48, said. “I built it up to be successful enough to be sold, and I did and needed a break.”

He signed a five-year non-compete clause upon selling, but said he told family and friends, “I would have signed a life-long clause. I’m washing my hands of the ice cream business.”

Snyder returned to school and earned a degree in finance from Columbia. He worked at Lehman Brothers for five years, but realised he missed owning his own business and he missed ice cream.

With il laboratorio del gelato, Snyder decided he would return to what Ciao Bella was before the current owner turned it into a national brand: a small location with only three machines, using strictly natural and real products, that would produce ice cream for wholesale uses.

“The name has gelato in it, but I see that as interchangeable with ice cream, the way we package it,” Snyder said. “It is based on Italian recipes, but from my travels around the world, I’ve given our product a more mature palette. … It’s world-class style.”

The store’s Lower East Side location, next to the famed Katz’s Deli, makes all of the ice cream on site. The staff peals about 300 mangoes a week and crushes amaretto cookies all by hand.

You can see the staff at work through the glass windows as you walk down Ludlow Street. The store is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, in case customers want to take advantage of the coffee bar, and until midnight on weekends. Snyder said it’s hard to close the doors at midnight on Friday and Saturdays because of the nightlife in the area.

Upon entering, the stark white and industrialĀ aesthetics make you feel as if you are in an actual lab, and certainly not in an ice cream store. Workers let each patron try two flavours before ordering.

All of the flavours are seasonal, and rotated without any real schedule. Each time you walk in, it’s a surprise which 48 flavours will be showcased on any given day. The only constant is vanilla, Snyder said.

Here's Jon Snyder, founder of il laboratorio del gelato.

He let us try the kiwi, lemon basil, black plum, mocha chocolate chip, carob, amaretto crunch, and wasabi flavours. We were partial to the kiwi and the carob.

Here are the four sizes you can purchase at the store.

Or you can get yours in a cone.

Even more flavours. The honey lavender and dark chocolate mixed together was another one of our favourites.

This is the look behind the counter. The hot fudge machine in the far right corner is from the Carvel Snyder's grandparents owned in the 1950's.

Here are some of the ingredients used in the ice cream. Maple syrup, yum!

Every container of ice cream is hand-labelled by the staff.

One of the workers is making the espresso flavour, which won an award from Money Magazine a few years ago.

Snyder told us they brew the coffee in the milk to make the espresso flavour.

It smelled delicious.

Take a look in the pots.

Adding some Mexican Cinnamon to another flavour.

Snyder showed us around all of the freezers. He said they go through three full freezers (like this one) every day.

Good thing there's plenty of inventory.

A look at some of the natural ingredients.

Here are the three machines used to make the ice cream. Normally, only two are run at a time, unless the store is really busy. Snyder and company make only 88 ounces of a flavour at once, then move onto a new one.

Sorbet being churned.

You can see out the windows to Katz's. On the glass is a small printed story all about il laboratorio del gelato.

The coffee bar is a pretty fancy piece of equipment. The store uses Blue Bottle Coffee.

Here's the view the customers normally have.

These customers are trying new flavours.

If you want to try for yourself, head over to 188 Ludlow Street.

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