Rain or shine, Gelissimo gelato is bellissimo
Chocolate. Vanilla. Yuzu olive oil. Deer milk and cardamom. Curry, coriander and confit mushroom. All the classic gelato flavours, right?
Graham Joe never set out to become Wellington’s gelato king. While he grew up in “the back of Mum and Dad’s greengrocer business” in the Hutt, he went on to work in IT for over 20 years, although he’s the first to admit that “while I was travelling for business, food was next thing on my mind.”
After leaving his role via “yet another restructure”, he ended up running the famous Harbourside Market three days a week, working alongside a lot of “passionate foodies, artisans and small businesses”. But Graham still harboured a longtime dream of running a cafe - a plan cooked up over cups of coffee with his old corporate colleagues.
So ten years ago he bought the ‘original Gelissimo’, a cafe in Eastbourne that made a couple of flavours of gelato from semi-prepared mix. Graham says he “quickly found out that being a customer in a cafe was being far more preferable to actually owning one”, but the gelato side of things intrigued him. He decided to shutter the rest of the business and focus on making the best gelato he could, which involved figuring out how to make everything from scratch.
The lightbulb moment came with Rebecca Hardie Boys, of Hardieboys Beverages, suggested that Graham try making a gelato from all her ginger beer that had got a bit too fizzy. “So she brought some around and we put it through the machine. We realised, oh my god, that’s pretty good. My head flipped and I thought: what if we stopped using these semi-prepared ingredients and started sourcing everything locally?”
In the years of trial and error since, Gelissimo has become famous for its indulgent frozen treats made with the best local ingredients and organic Zany Zeus milk. The classics like chocolate and strawberry sell in spades from their two waterfront locations, but it’s the Yum Yum - made with Fix & Fogg peanut butter, salted caramel and dark chocolate - that’s been the biggest seller. Gelissimo has also become known for its magical glow-in-the-dark gelato that comes out for special events, like the recent Van Gogh Alive exhibition.
When we first started, the most popular flavours were rich, indulgent and sweet. Over the years, people have become more diverse in their palettes and more adventurous.
Graham Joe, Gelissimo
Graham’s more unexpected flavours have become popular as the capital’s tastes have changed. “When we first started, the most popular flavours were rich, indulgent and sweet. Over the years, people have become more diverse in their palettes and more adventurous.” Now, flavours like cucumber lime and mint, wild carrot seed and pōhutukawa, or yuzu olive oil sit alongside cookies and milk, and mango sorbet. Gelissimo also collaborates on unique gelatos for Wellington’s top eateries, although sometimes these prove challenging: “I worked on a curry, coriander and mushroom confit gelato with Chetan Pangam from One80 that looked like scrambled eggs at first!”
So what’s a gelato mogul to do with his success? Well, Graham says he’s happy to keep the business very local. “We don’t send anything beyond the Wellington region these days, and we’re not in supermarkets, although you can buy takeaway tubs from our two shops now. I just want to be that little old man that just makes gelato in a little gelato shop.”