Ice cream joint Gelati Celesti has anchored Richmond’s craft creamery scene for 35 years. The freshly churned flavors are now taking over the Southside as owner Steve Rosser opens his sixth location in Virginia Beach. Gelati Celesti will make its Hilltop debut on Friday, May 24 and is celebrating with free ice cream all day long.
Gelati Celesti, home of heavenly handmade ice cream, was founded by Peter Edmonds in 1984. For 28 years, Edmonds churned, scooped and served his creamy creation from one shop on Richmond’s Grove Avenue. When close friend Steve Rosser purchased the company in 2010, the local chain prepared for expansion, opening a main production facility in 2011, a second Gelati location in 2012 and a mobile truck in 2013. Now with his sixth store and first in Virginia Beach, Rosser not only pushes the geographical boundaries of his ice cream empire, but of its operations as well.
The Hilltop shop, managed by Rosser’s daughter, Suzy, will be the first Gelati Celesti to a host a drive-thru. The new shop is also a testament to Rosser’s decades of hard work in developing the brand’s three components of success—aesthetics, service experience and an outstanding product.
Inside, Gelati Celesti boasts seaside hues and large menus displayed on a stained cypress wood backdrop. Ice cream-centric quotes and art line the shop’s walls as well. Most appealing to the eyes (and stomach), however, are the hulking freezers lined with ready-to-scoop batches of homemade ice cream.
Paramount to the success of Gelati Celesti is the consistency of its product. All 24 house flavors and plus-200 specialty flavors are blended one batch at a time at a 9,250-square-foot production facility in Richmond. Rosser expanded to the larger facility last year to keep up with demand. “We go through 450 gallons [of ice cream] a day during peak summer season,” says Rosser.
Suzy and Steve Rosser
Experimentation is constant in the Gelati Celesti kitchen. Rosser designs sophisticated flavors based on food trends and the preferences of Gelati customers. Rosser breaks down his customers into five groups—traditionalists, mainstreamers, the young and playful, adventurous and diet restrictive. He caters to each of their palates by crafting everything from basic flavors of vanilla, strawberry and Oreo cookie to coconut curry, blueberry lavender and dairy-free options. High on the bestselling list are Chocolate Decadence, a brownie batter-esque serving of rich chocolate, and the Just Ask boasting a white chocolate base churned with creamy peanut butter and crushed Oreos. Scoops of Gelati Celesti ice cream are seriously indulgent and rich in texture as they are whipped with far less air than the store bought product.
Gelati is big on local flavor too. Rosser incorporates beans from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. into Blanchard’s Dark as Dark and Ukrop’s rainbow cookies in the vanilla-based Rainbow Cookie blend. The Virginia Beach store will also introduce Sea Turtle, a flavor unique to the city that combines chocolate-laced ice cream with almonds and sea salt. Gelati’s specialty cakes, pies, milkshakes, floats and sundaes will be available as well.
While Gelati partners with mobile delivery services, Rosser continues to focus on quality customer service. “We love the human element,” he says. “We get anywhere from 300 to 400 [customers] per day and we want to engage with all of them.”
Gelati Celesti is located at 754 First Colonial Road and will be open Sunday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.