In this weather Alfonso Gelateria is unsurprisingly flat out, the handmade artisan Italian ice cream and sorbets, made in Oxfordshire, currently in massive demand now that it can deliver to your door.
And yet while Alfonso’s is reaching a whole new audience in the current lockdown, a few weeks ago the future looked bleak.
Orders had dried up as shops, cafes and delis closed, and Lewis Ratto’s usual Summertown stand was forced to close.
But instead of giving up, Alfonso’s launched an online delivery service and demand is so high, its creator 26 year-old Lewis can scarcely keep up.
And having had the pleasure of a recent Alfonso’s delivery, we can totally understand what the fuss is all about, the flavours, texture and smoothness creating a really distinctive and unique combination.
Lewis’ story is equally inspiring. The 26 year-old chemistry graduate followed his heart and began his own business selling Italian ice cream from his home in Kidlington in 2018.
The business grew exponentially and Lewis ‘s bespoke Tuk Tuk was soon a popular sight in Summertown where his ice cream grew a regular crowd.
Word got out and Lewis began suppling businesses and delis, from Eynshams’ Lyall & Co Cafe to The Rabbit Hole in North Parade, Burford Garden Centre and most recently the terrace outside Victors in the Westgate Centre, plus private parties and festivals.
Alfonso’s was going places and all Lewis’ hard work had paid off.
But then Coronavirus began and all Lewis’ orders dried up on the spot.
But instead of admitting defeat, Lewis decided that if the public couldn’t come to him, he would go to them, and now the orders are pouring in so fast in fact it’s hard to find the time to speak. “Yes it’s very busy,” he grins, “so it’s all good.”
Lewis learned his craft in Italy, taking extensive gelato classes from experts before returning home to implement his new found skills.
Lewis has Italian blood and lived in Rome until he was 17, when he moved here and went to The Marlborough school in Woodstock.
“When other people were baking and making cakes, I was making ice cream,” he smiles. “Cooking is just part of the Italian culture,” he shrugs.
It made perfect sense to him to combine his love of chemistry with food, and began refining his ice cream recipes until he’d got them just right.
Working as a lab technician by day, he experimented with his ice cream and sorbet recipes by night.
“I’ve always been enterprising and wanted to do my own thing so starting Gelato’s made perfect sense. Besides I’m young, and was living at home with my family in Kidlington, so I had nothing to lose.”
The bespoke Tuk Tuk finally arrived from Naples at 6am on May 20 2018 and by 3pm that afternoon he was already selling ice cream in Summertown.
“It was right at the beginning of that massive heat wave so I was blown away by how well it went. Within two weeks I even had my own regulars!”
And the mobile Tuk Tuk? “The English love an ice cream van, so I thought my own gelato version would be a fun idea.”
So what’s the difference between Italian gelato and English ice cream? “Gelato is softer and creamier,” Lewis says.
And what distinguishes his product? “It’s unique. They are my recipes made with top quality ingredients, tested over and over again, by trying endless different chocolates or fruit to get the taste absolutely spot on. So I don’t use flavour bases like lots of ice cream makers do, everything is made from scratch. It starts with the flavour and builds from there, rather than the other way around.”
He sounds very confident? “Well I know what I’m doing now but the thing about running your own business is that you get used to these obstacles being put in your way and working around them.
“So that’s why I started my own delivery service and it’s really taken off now I can reach a whole new demographic, people who perhaps couldn’t or wouldn’t find me in get Summertown or The Westgate.
His classic bestsellers include vanilla, strawberry, mint, salted caramel, pistachio, and chocolate ice cream and mango and strawberry sorbet, but he alternates guest ice creams as well.
“My strawberry with balsamic vinegar ripple was a big hit,” he smiles. I’m game!
Free delivery for £10 orders and over for OX1 – OX5 & Woodstock Area.
Orders by 12pm will be delivered by 3pm & orders by 4pm will be delivered by 7pm.