“Take care of your employees and they will take care of customers who will take care of your business.”
–Josh Davis, co-founder & CEO
CEI’s work with Gelato Fiasco began over ten years ago, when co-founders Josh Davis and Bruno Tropeano first came to CEI to work with business advisor Brad Swanson to develop a business plan. Inspired by Italian gelato masters, the original vision was simple: establish a homemade gelato shop in Brunswick, Maine using locally-sourced ingredients. The decade of partnership between CEI and Gelato Fiasco, which included business advising and flexible financing, has been essential to the success of the Brunswick-based business.
“CEI has been with us since day one.”
–Josh Davis, co-founder & CEO
Gelato Fiasco worked closely with CEI’s lending department to tailor multiple financing solutions to support the growth of the business. An early micro loan for equipment and working capital launched the Brunswick storefront. Additional loans for expansion followed, putting Gelato Fiasco in a position to move toward a second storefront business in Portland and grow the wholesale business.
As the company grew, increasing sales and demand did not always mean there was more money available. “Growth is very expensive and capital intensive,” said Josh. “We knew it would take a lot of capital to fill the orders we were getting. While we had some loans with CEI to increase capacity and meet demand, we knew at some point we would need a chunk of change to get larger equipment.” With a positive and long-standing relationship with CEI’s lending team, they began seeking out investment funding from CEI Ventures. Gelato Fiasco’s transition into the wholesale market was only possible because of these investments.
“I got to know Josh and Bruno over the years and witnessed dramatic growth in them as business owners,” said Nat Henshaw, president of CEI Ventures. “They are truly talented entrepreneurs that have some ‘special sauce’ or magic in their work.”
Between 2012 and 2015, CEI Ventures invested in Gelato Fiasco through three rounds of equity financing, supporting wholesale expansion and a new production facility known as the Flavor Foundry, located in Brunswick. “CEI Ventures was our lead investor, doing a lot of vetting when putting the deal together. Other investors then came in and followed on that deal,” said Josh.
The wholesale operation has far exceeded the storefront business in profitability and scale-up, but both are essential to the success of the company. “Nationally, people view Gelato Fiasco as the brand of gelato that is in their freezer. They don’t know where Brunswick is. They think of it as their brand. In Maine, people think of it as the brand that is in Brunswick and Portland,” said Josh.
Gelato Fiasco has a reputation as a quality employer in Maine. As the business grew, Josh and Bruno had to step away from the day-to-day operations and rely on and trust their employees. “It seemed like a leap of faith. I thought I had to be in control of everything,” said Josh. “We learned that bringing in outside talent and providing direction and leadership, then giving them space to excel was the best way to raise up a trustworthy and capable team.” The company has retained 12.5% of its original staff. One employee was hired at the age of 16. She recently completed her master’s degree and now oversees other staff. Gelato Fiasco employs 49 full time employees and hires up to 25 additional seasonal staff annually.
Davis sums it up best, “We believe in job creation and retention, and continue to grow to support our staff as allies in our sustainable growth. We are committed to happy employees who stay with us for the long haul and are excited to give exceptional customer service, making this a career, not just a job.” Gelato Fiasco takes the long view: to continue their commitment to growing the economy and workforce in Maine.
About Gelato Fiasco:
Gelato Fiasco is one of America’s leading independently owned producers of gelato. Choosing to produce in Maine instead of outsourcing to a co-packer, Gelato Fiasco makes all of its grocery store pints at its Flavor Foundry in Brunswick, Maine, with milk from family farms, natural cane sugar, and nuts, cocoas, chocolates, fruits, or confections. Pints are sold at more than 5,000 grocery stores across the United States. The company also operates year-round scoop shops in Brunswick and Portland, Maine. Gelato Fiasco’s pints have been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Its Ripe Mango Sorbetto and Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel Gelato won the Specialty Food Association’s sofi awards, the most prestigious product recognition in the specialty foods industry. Gelato Fiasco was founded in 2007 by Joshua Davis and Bruno Tropeano.