by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
May 1, 2006
Cassatine Sicilane (ricotta filled sponge cake covered with marzipan and sugar icing on top)
Pastrami on rye
Spicy beef salad
Jon F. Snyder’s love affair with gelato has been a long-standing relationship in his life — from growing up and working summers at the family-owned Carvel franchise, to moving to New York City and discovering gelato at a store named Angelica in Greenwich Village, which no longer exists, to starting his own gelato company, Ciao Bella. But it doesn’t end there. At times the relationship has been volatile. After selling Ciao Bella at the age of 25, Jon seemingly was done with gelato — burnt out and ready to move on to something else. He went back to school to pursue his undergraduate degree and then an MBA. With his gelato days behind him, he worked on Wall Street for several years. But is it really possible to let go of one’s true love? In 2001, twelve years after he sold Ciao Bella, he opened Il Laboratorio del Gelato. And this time, his love is here to stay.
The first time I ever tasted Il Laboratorio del Gelato, I fell in love, too. It was about three or four years ago, and my sister had brought home a pre-packed pint of strawberry gelato from Citarella. I’m not big on sweets but I’m a sucker for strawberry ice cream, and I couldn’t believe how fresh this stuff tasted. Thereafter, Citarella stopped carrying Il Laboratorio del Gelato, which was a loss, but they had brought my attention to the brand.
It’s fun to listen to Jon talk about his story and gelato. Despite the fact that he’s probably had to repeat it a million times, it’s so nice to see someone speak so passionately about something, particularly food! He’s genuinely down to earth and a hard worker. You’ll find him at the store more often than not, whether he’s in the back making the gelato, or up front scooping it for customers.
He had decided to get back into the business because there were no good local New York gelato makers. A large number of New York restaurants were serving Ciao Bella, which over the years has grown into a large national brand but is no longer New York-based. Jon wanted to create a small little factory in the heart of Manhattan that would produce high quality gelato, something that New York could be proud of to call its own. The laboratory opened in the Lower East Side post 9/11. In every way, Jon’s heart is here in the City and he is giving back on all fronts. Nearly five years later, Il Laboratorio del Gelato is giving Ciao Bella a run for its money as its main competitor in the City.
Though his list of clientele keeps growing (Il Laboratorio mainly supplies gelato to restaurants in the City but also sells retail at the storefront, as well as to local purveyors like Murray’s Cheese and Whole Foods in Union Square), Jon maintains that his goal is to keep his business local. Despite his long hours and crazy schedule, you can tell that he loves working with his hands. Making gelato is a bit of science and art, and the idea of the laboratory was so that chefs could come and develop new flavors with Jon. He works with many chefs to create new flavors for their restaurants like Guiness for European Union, cherry blossom for En, milk chocolate with malt for The Stanton Social, Cheddar cheese for 24 Prince and buttermilk for Prune, just to name a few.
For Cravings and this feature, Jon tried out two new flavors: beet and Earl Grey. He says he’s always wanted to work with teas but hadn’t gotten around to it until this opportunity. I was touched and honored that he took the time to play around and come up with some new flavors, and I hope that they will become part of his regular repertoire. Both beet and Earl Grey were positively delightful, although while I really fancied the beet as it wasn’t too sweet and paired perfectly with the crème fraîche gelato, I’m afraid this flavor might be a bit too unusual for the general public.
With a lot of experience behind him, Jon is taking his love for gelato to new heights. While he’s been approached to franchise Il Laboratorio del Gelato, he declines these opportunities and in turn offers to teach others about the art and process of making gelato from fresh ingredients. His interest and heart lies in this little laboratory, and even though it’s getting crowded and he may need to find a bigger space, his commitment to his own business is strong. He speaks of his success with honor not conceit, like a proud father. It may have taken him a while to figure out what he really loves and how to make it work, but so far, it’s working beautifully.
by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
May 1, 2006
EARL GREY GELATO
Earl Grey is not an entirely exotic flavor, and you can find Earl Grey truffles or chocolates in the City, but surprisingly, you don’t see much Earl Grey ice cream around. I love Earl Grey tea, particularly with milk, so an Earl Grey gelato is like a dream come true. The flavor is nicely subtle and forceful at the same time. There’s just the right amount of Earl Grey aroma in the initial bite and then it leaves a kick of the strong tea flavor in the aftertaste. Instead of the usual milk tea that I have in the afternoons, I could easily substitute this gelato so that I wouldn’t need any sweets to go with my tea — it would all be in one package.