Francesco Realmuto enjoyed the security of his job as a gem cutter in Manhattan’s diamond district. It was the long hours and tedium that wore on him.
So after 12 years he switched to another kind of ice, opening L’Arte del Gelato in 2005.
It’s the best gelato I’ve had in New York -- and that’s coming from a native Italian.
Realmuto and his partner, another diamond cutter named Salvatore Potestio, now have gelaterias at Chelsea Market, in the West Village and, from May through August, at Lincoln Center Plaza.
I spoke with Realmuto at Chelsea Market, where he gave me a tour of L’Arte del Gelato’s underground laboratory. Like a good Italian, he stopped every few steps to joke with friends and fellow merchants.
Rosboch: Why did you change careers?
Realmuto: Cutting stones is a very lonely job. You’re always there, seven days a week, even in the summer, without ever seeing anyone.
All my diamonds were marked excellent. I had reached a peak. And I had always been in love with food.
Rosboch: What pushed you toward gelato?
Realmuto: I was at a food show and saw a queue of 20 people for gelato. Everywhere else it was empty. Two weeks later I flew to Italy to learn for three months.
Rosboch: What were the early days like?
Realmuto: I worked on my own, doing everything. I would wake up very early and by 11 would have 22 flavors out. It would take about six hours to prepare.
Rosboch: What’s different about L’Arte del Gelato?
Realmuto: People start from money. I don’t; I start from the product. I want to make the best product and don’t care how much the chocolate or the pistachios costs.
I’ve never paid attention to numbers and have never made a business plan. And after seven years this philosophy has proved me right.
Rosboch: How long did it take for the business to become profitable?
Realmuto: Four years. Now it’s profitable also because we have very strategic shops, especially here at Chelsea Market where people eat gelato even during the winter, forgetting that it’s cold outside.
During the summer we sell 880 pounds of gelato a day, which is a lot.
Rosboch: Have you done some advertising to get started?
Realmuto: Never. I don’t want Zagat to stop by for five minutes and judge my years of work. I don’t find it right. I’ve never spent anything on advertising and we’re first on Yelp, have a critic’s pick on nymag.com and if you go on Google and type “gelato nyc,” we’re the No. 1.
Rosboch: Do you think it would have been harder to succeed with a business like yours in Italy?
Realmuto: Absolutely. In the U.S. there’s still much to do, especially in New York. In Italy we’re very advanced in terms of food. There are concepts to bring here from Italy that would certainly be successful.
I want to make a gelateria that is an institution. I want to create a place with an open laboratory where I’ll put tables to sit down and make gelato cups, the way it used to be in Italy.
(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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