best gelato — in Fennville
600 flavors in 49 states,
Pete Palazzolo tingles the taste buds
with his concoctions — from bubble
to mascarpone caramel pistachio.
Photography by Johnny Quirin
passion for frozen treats started 22 years
ago in the back of his mother’s restaurant
After two decades
of continual success, Palazzolo’s
Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto can now be found
in 49 states (excluding Hawaii), and in 600
flavors. It has even been discussed on “Oprah,” who
included Palazzolo’s sorbetto on “the
O list” as a creamy and heavenly
It all began in 1986, when Marie Palazzolo opened
Palazzolo’s Italian Specialties. Pete started
working there when he was 16, during the restaurant’s
second summer. The mother and son almost immediately
decided they wanted to offer gelato.
The gelato quickly became so popular that they
decided to wholesale it. Their first deliveries — via
the back of their Chevy Blazer — were to
The Sandpiper restaurant (now The Piper) and
to Holland Hospital.
Palazzolo’s has quite a few more customers
now. The products can be found at Forest Hills
Food, D&W stores, and many area restaurants,
including San Chez, Bistro Bella Vita and The
Chop House. (See list.)
Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto
relocated to Fennville last year, a move that
gave the company 50,000 square feet — 10
times the size of the original building. Despite
the 45,000-square-foot increase and higher revenues,
Palazzolo’s remains a small company, with
Food, it seems, runs in the Palazzolo family.
Pete’s maternal grandfather was chef and
owner of Larco’s Inn in Detroit, and his
grandmother was an executive chef.
“I’ve always had it in me to be in
the kitchen,” Pete
said. “I put omelets together at 4 or 5
And Pete still has the privilege of working
with his mom. Marie is responsible for managing
Even Pete’s dad, a retired Chrysler employee,
puts in a few hours once in a while.
“He has a good pension, so I just give him a little
spending money,” Pete laughed.
When they initially started, the ingredients
available did not satisfy Pete.
“I have a knack for assembling things that taste
good — Italian instinct; it is part of
me to know what works and what doesn’t
work,” he said. “The equipment- guys
typically wanted you to use the powdered mixes.
It helped me learn that I didn’t want to
above. packages spumoni gelato.
Dismayed at the processed and artificial flavors,
Pete decided to use only high-quality, natural
ingredients, the authentic way to make gelato.
Other companies couldn’t do it because
they lacked the proper equipment.
Many ice cream manufacturers add oil-based flavoring
to their products instead of real fruits and
nuts, since berry seeds and nuts will clog their
machines. Pete’s special equipment from
Italy allows him to flavor his treats with real
foods. He creates flavors that he knows other
companies cannot replicate. Between the gelato
and sorbetto, Palazzolo’s offers 19 varieties
of vanilla and 44 chocolates, along with products
that include coffee, nuts, fruit, liqueurs, and
spices and herbs.
uses mangos from the mountains of India; couverture
chocolate from Switzerland, Venezuela and Belgium;
and high-quality vanilla from Tahiti and Madagascar.
There is even a Bloody Mary sorbetto, complete
with tomato juice, red pepper, dill, horseradish,
vodka and Worcestershire.
The flavor ideas sometimes come from customer
requests and sometimes straight from Pete’s
imagination. One of the more unusual flavors,
Mexican chocolate chipotle, was requested by
a chef at a Cuban restaurant in Miami. The final
product includes chocolate gelato blended with
raspberries, chunks of chocolate and spicy chipotle
Other flavors have come about almost by accident.
“When family and friends come over, they request
vanilla. But once, I had a tub of mascarpone.
I figured they wouldn’t notice,” Pete
said. “I had some caramel and pistachios
too, and just started adding them in.”
caramel pistachio became Pete’s favorite
flavor, and a mainstay on the menu.
Palazzolo gelato also has a different consistency,
with less air whipped in, making it gooey and
creamy. “It doesn’t feel like a frozen
sponge,” Pete said.
Less air means more density. Three gallons of
ice cream yield 50 four-ounce scoops, while 2.5
gallons of gelato yield 80 four-ounce scoops.
Pete said there is a misconception that gelato
has less fat than ice cream. The fat content
varies among flavors; French vanilla, blended
with lots of egg yolks, is on the higher end
of the fat spectrum. If fat is a concern, then
the answer is sorbetto — which is dairy-free,
made only with water, sugar and fruit.
The business has grown exponentially. In the ’80s,
Palazzolo’s frozen products found a niche
in fine dining, but in the ’90s, family-style
restaurants also began to request the products — and
wanted to scoop rather than just serve. Pete
connected with Frigomeccanica, an Italian industrial
refrigeration company. Along with Frigomeccanica,
he now has helped 30 companies custom-design
their space for gelaterias.
Pete said that occasionally
customers are not satisfied with new flavors.
He related a story about one company that requested
a batch of pistachio gelato.
“They said, ‘This doesn’t taste right.
We want it to taste like this other pistachio
ice cream,’” Pete said.
He tasted that ice cream and realized the flavor
was not pistachio, but almond. So, he created
a gelato that pleased the company’s taste
buds, foregoing authenticity.
“The key to our success and growth pattern is
doing what the customer wants,” he said.
That includes bubble gum and blue moon gelato.
While Pete loves his job, he does have his frozen-treat
“I’m like the plumber with a leaky
said. “I never have it at home.” GR
Kalee Rinehart is a recent graduate of Syracuse
University and a summer intern with Gemini Publications.