It’s hot in Berlin Charlottenburg. At noon it was already 28 degrees Celsius. The sun hits the asphalt of Wundtstrasse. The air is muggy – a thunderstorm is brewing today.
There is a long queue in front of the ice cream parlor on Wundtstrasse. A man with dark, chin-length hair runs out of the store with a mug of ice cream in hand. He hands it to a customer, runs in again, comes out with another mug. It is Ralf Sander, founder and owner of the ice cream factory “Gimme Gelato”.
Sander has a lot to do. “We had two interviews this morning, then we had the delivery from the fresh produce service, the setup of the coffee machine, in between we delivered to Potsdamer Platz and then later the DJ comes over,” explains the native of Frankfurt, wiping the sweat off the Forehead.
Sander took the step into self-employment two years ago. However, he has more than 20 years of experience in the food industry. First he trained as a brewer and maltster, studied and graduated as a master craftsman. After graduation, he took part in a trainee program in marketing and sales at the Henninger-Bräu brewery, gained further experience in marketing, traveled to Brazil, England, Zurich, Istanbul and Cairo and worked for big names such as Coca Cola and Nestlé.
“For now I only do things that I really enjoy“
“Coca Cola had a volunteer program in 2016 that you could apply for if you were ready to leave,” recalls Sander. “I threw my hat in the ring. In the package there was a long time off or coal. I opted for the long time off. ”After his time off, he moved his caravan to Caputh in the Potsdam-Mittelmark district, directly on the lake. “I did standup paddling there and thought about what I would do. I have made up my mind: For now I will only do things that I really enjoy. I also enjoyed working in corporations, but I’ve always wanted to set up something of my own. “
But he didn’t immediately have the brilliant idea. He only discovered his passion for ice cream during a weekend course. “Up until that time I had never seen an ice cream machine in real life and never heard the word ice laboratory,” says Sander. “I was so excited on the first day! We made strawberry ice cream and it tasted so creamy. So I thought, if it’s so easy to make good ice cream, I’d like to take a closer look. ”He did research and went to Italy to Gelato University, a school that offers training and courses in making ice cream.
During his time at Gelato University, Sander discovered the user comment “Gimme some!” On the school’s Instagram profile. It was this comment that ultimately led him to name his business, which he founded in 2018 with his business partner Volker Beck, “Gimme Gelato”.
Craft beer instead of Pils, golden milk instead of filter coffee, artisan ice cream instead of industrial ice cream
Golden milk instead of filter coffee, craft beer instead of Pils – if you look at the trends in the food industry, there is a strong tendency towards transparency, regionality, seasonality and sustainability. Sander takes advantage of these trends. “What we want to do differently from typical ice cream parlors is that we only have sustainable packaging in the store – for example we have metal spoons, glass straws and compostable napkins.”
While Italian ice cream parlors work behind closed doors, passers-by at Sander can look directly into the ice cream laboratory without having to enter the ice cream parlor. The ice cream that is made in the laboratory consists of natural ingredients, has no colorings, no flavorings and no flavor enhancers. The range includes ice cream on a stick, classic gelato ice cream and soft ice cream.
“We have a modern and contemporary design, mobile solutions and focus on mobile devices,” says Sander. As he speaks, a push notification from YouTube appears on the tablet – for an otter video. “I’m a big fan,” he admits. His love for the small animals is so great that the otter is an integral part of the brand identity of “Gimme Gelato” and is shown on the company logo.
The slogan, which was originally supposed to be “Tastes like no other”, has been changed to “Tastes like no otter”. “That was after a friend gave me a hat that said ‘I’m otter than you’ because I always watched these otter videos.”
“The long lines in front of the store are only part of the truth”
The concept seems to be well received – if you walk past the ice cream parlor, you will notice the line in front of the shop. “The long lines in front of the store are only part of the truth,” says Sander. “We had a very strong plan for this year that actually planned that we would do 60 to 70 percent of our business through catering and mobile solutions.” During the past year he had collaborations with Essie and Jolie, 25 Hours Hotels, Mercedes Benz and Dean & David was able to organize, the catering area is now completely at zero due to the corona pandemic. “It’s extremely painful,” says Sander.
When the official lockdown started, he had already closed the shop. “I talked to a few doctors and they were so concerned that I said: I can’t go on like this. Then I locked myself in for a week and thought about how to save the whole thing. ”He opened a web shop, built a kiosk with a carpenter, started filling mugs and switched from a till to PayPal so that he could contactlessly over ice cream the kiosk counter could sell. “That worked very well, we received great support and were totally overwhelmed by all the encouragement.” If you enter the shop today, you can see that part of the shop is separated by tables and refrigerated shelves, so the shop space is so small that a maximum of one customer can enter it.
So far, compared to other sectors such as clubs or the aviation industry, they have come through the crisis well, says Sander. “We were not condemned to do nothing and were able to adjust to the new situation again and again.” Thanks to the emergency aid, current bills could be paid – even though they had only just had a four-month winter break. “Nevertheless, it was an extremely demanding and exhausting time. What is the perspective now? I can only say: I have no idea. ”
“I would do it again anytime”
Sander doesn’t have much time to take breaks. “My break looks like this: I throw my laundry in the washing machine in the evening and in the dryer in the morning. Since the twenty-third of February, on which we started this year, I might have had a meal with friends. “
Still, he would do it again anytime, he says. “I wouldn’t think of much that I would do differently. It was a lot of learning by doing: You see the queue at the sales car and think that it is sure to work really well. What you don’t know at the moment, however, is that you have to empty the sales vehicles every evening, defrost the showcase, clean, disinfect and refill it every morning. “That is exactly part of the successful concept of” Gimme Gelato “: Trying out, constantly looking at every area and questioning how it can be done better. “For us, 2020 is the year in which we learn a lot and try out a lot of things – whether with Corona or without. And next year we will give full throttle. ”
Sander looks up at the sky, which is now heavily hung with gray clouds. A drop bursts on the table. Another one. The thunderstorm starts. For Sander, that means fewer customers. He still doesn’t have time to breathe deeply. There is a lot to do – tomorrow will be another hot day.