When Sierra Georgia sets her mind to something, chances are good she’ll make it happen.
Get a job with the Federal Aviation Administration after graduating Howard University with a degree in international relations? Check. Make the jump from government employee to entrepreneur and launch a successful food truck? Yep. Get highlighted as a “business to watch” by Capital One? Natch. Uproot everything and head to Italy to become certified as an “Artisan Gelato Master,” then move to Philly and get a small business loan? Done and done.
Next up on Georgia’s to-do list: Open the flagship location of what she envisions as an eventual mini-chain of Philadelphia gelaterias.
Interior construction is currently underway at Gelat’oh, a 950-square-foot cafe at the tri-corner intersection of Wildey, Hancock and Hope Streets in Northern Liberties. (The official address is 1100 N. Front St., No. 4; it’s around the corner from Love & Honey Fried Chicken in the pocket tucked between the backside of the Piazza and the El.)
Georgia is targeting a launch date of January 2018 for her first storefront. With an open kitchen, a full-service espresso bar, 20-plus seats and a counter serving pastries alongside gelato, sorbet and smoothies, the cafe will open as early as 7 a.m.
“I live right here and there’s lots of people walking their dogs or going to work at that time,” said the 31-year-old entrepreneur, “and not much else is open.” She also plans to keep the doors open through late evening most nights, to catch the after-dinner or bar-hopping crowds.
Making pastries is definitely one of Georgia’s talents — viz. the bakeoff she won last year at West Philly’s Center for Culinary Enterprises, scoring her a year’s membership for free — but the main focus of the cafe is right in its name.
Gelat’oh will serve gelato and sorbet in flavors based on ingredients from local farms, infused with fresh herbs, mixed with booze and more. The frozen treats will be available by the scoop, but also as “design your own” popsicles, which you’ll get to watch being dipped in the coating of your choice and then rolled in various nuts or sprinkles. Also a speciality: Something Georgia calls Affogato Americano, a coffee in which a scoop of gelato is dissolved so it takes on a texture “almost like a latte.” She’ll also offer an iced version, which could be great with combos like green tea sorbet and green iced tea, she said.
Georgia got her first taste of gelato-making working under an Italian chef in D.C., and then got bit by the gelato bug. She enrolled in a six-week course at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, and dove headlong into the details of how to master the creamy texture and rich flavors of the Italian frozen treat.
“They teach you about the artisan process behind it and what separates you (the great maker of gelato) from them (the rest of the field),” Georgia said.
On her return to the states, she decided Philly was the right city to ply her newly honed talents.
“The food scene here is more interesting than D.C.,” she observed. “More culturally vibrant.” It’s also less expensive, she said — an important factor for a sole proprietor with no outside investors. Plus, it’s relatively close to her family in South Jersey.
Georgia realizes there are other gelaterias in Philly already (she was especially wowed by the scoops at Gran Caffe L’Aquila), but she thinks Gelat’oh will be special. Not only because of the flavors she’s planning, or the classes she’s planning to host in the evenings, but also because of its cross-cultural vibe.
“I want it to be as chic as in Italy, with as good a product,” Georgia said, “but with a truly American feel.”