Jared Olkin, founder of the dairy-free brand Revolution Gelato, comes by his passion for frozen desserts honestly. There’s a long line of folks in his family who love ice cream and maybe even made a living from it.
“My great-grandfather had a soda fountain in New York. My grandfather loved ice cream and every night at about 8:30pm, like clockwork, would serve himself three scoops of ice cream. My mom was in the first graduating class of women from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. She trained as a pastry chef but later realized her dream of opening a homemade ice cream store. As a kid, I worked the register and scooped ice cream alongside my sister Leah [Sitkin],” says Olkin.
In 2010, he took this family history with ice cream and began the journey that resulted in his founding Revolution Gelato. Leah is a part of the business, too, running the brand’s retail side of scoop shop, catering and events.
Gelato is a small part of the world of frozen desserts. Olkin says the easiest way to define gelato is to call it Italian-style ice cream but there are differences, although they’re not always hard and fast. Generally, they differ in density (gelato has less air than American ice cream), they differ in fat the fat (gelato has less fat than American ice cream) and they differ in the temperature at which is they’re served (gelato is served warmer).
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“When I developed our recipes I drew on my favorite parts of American-style and Italian-style. We have a dense product that should be served at a warmer temperature, but our fat levels are more in line with traditional American ice cream. I like that richness.”
Revolution Gelato started when Olkin was in college and moving toward a minimally processed, plant-based diet. “I’d cook five-course gourmet vegetarian underground dinners in my apartment. I started incorporating ice cream into the menu and learned there were vegan ice creams that weren’t completely terrible. I quickly became obsessed with making a version that was truly excellent, and not just ‘good for vegan’.”
Olkin looked at recipes online and began experimenting from there. At first he thought he’d use his research to write a cookbook, but then he thought about the market for vegan ice cream. That connected with his entrepreneurial side. As long as he was developing recipes, why not produce the product itself?
After months of experiments, he had a prototype recipe. It took time to develop a production process that gave him the product he wanted. He now works with a small family-owned business in South Florida and they make the gelato from his recipes. These days it’s carried in over 120 retail and food service locations around the South including Whole Foods and Earth Fare. And won two Flavor of Georgia awards (2016 and 2017) beating out a range of other frozen treats.
Revolution Gelato comes in six flavors – Triple Vanilla, Chocolate Fantasy, Orange Dream, Majestic Mango, Cardamom Kiss and Nekkid Espresso – and there will soon be at least one new flavor. “We have a retail space in the Global Grub Collective/We Suki Suki in East Atlanta and that will serve as our flavor lab. We have to think carefully about the assortment of flavors for grocery stores because you only get so many slots on the shelf, and we want to have something for everyone. We can add maybe one or two more flavors in that space.”
In developing his recipes for store shelves, Olkin has so far chosen not to incorporate “add ins” – those bits of chocolate, ribbons of jam or chunks of coconut that swirl through many of the offerings in your frozen food section. Having no add ins means his gelato falls into the “smooth” category and he likes the idea that you can customize his flavors to suit your taste. For example, if you want pistachios in your bowl of Cardamom Kiss, add as many as you like.
His advice for other food entrepreneurs is to start small. “Start with the smallest thing you can, whether it’s a farmers market or the Atlanta Underground Market or a pop-up space. Do whatever you can to get your product out in front of people and get their feedback as soon as you have a viable prototype. That way you’ll build a following while you refine your recipes and learn what resonates. Along the same lines, commit as little as possible and prioritize flexibility because your needs will change rapidly early on. Don’t sign a three-year lease if you can get by with a one-year lease. Keep small until you can’t keep up and you have to move to something bigger.”
And he suggests that if you can, selling your products directly to consumers is the fastest route to profitability and the best way to build your brand. “Start there instead of going directly to wholesale.”