Gelato Maker Shares Secrets of Sweet Success

Oprah-renown Massimo Gelato is made near the Watsonville Airport.

Massimo Caporale is a humble, charming man who works hard in his little corner of Watsonville. He has accomplished what many entrepreneurs hope to do: creating a product the masses love.

When looking for Massimo Gelato, Caporale's business, I mistakenly expected a typical ice cream shop, and encountered a flavorful experience nestled away in an industrial area of Watsonville near the airport.

Caporale moved from Padova (Latin name: Padua), 2,000-year-old town in northern Italy, to Santa Cruz County in 1987. The move was prompted when he vacationed in Santa Cruz and saw the potential for gelato to find a new home in the grocery stores of America.

Gelato, a much common staple in Italy, is now finding itself playing along side the ice cream industry, but Caporale is convinced the low-fat dessert will be a new staple in frozen deserts.

“I think that gelato now is starting to be, [what] coffee was 15 years ago, like Starbucks," Caporale said. "Nobody knew coffee, then there was cafe espresso, and everyone thought "oh cafe espresso.'"

It didn’t take Caporale long to hear the "oh" when it came to his product.  Starting out with a local commercial kitchen, Caporale says he remembers the days of marketing his gelato to various restaurants. But to his surprise, the customers began coming directly to him, signifying recognition for his growing business.

Three years ago, Caporale's product won the national spotlight when Oprah recommended his gelato. Caporale remains surprisingly humble when he reflects on the 2008 O magazine article that featured his most popular flavor, Dark Chocolate. He quietly calls the mention, “a nice gift”.

All together, his company offers 50-60 different flavors: dairy gelatos, gelato sorbets, sugar free gelatos and a few ice creams.

“[Gelato] is better because it’s made with fresh ingredients [and] is less fat than ice cream,” he explains.  “It has a better flavor for some reason.”

Caporale exclusively uses fresh products, relying on local fruits, as well as italian flavors shipped from his native country. When asked what makes up the recipe, the business owner simply answers: whole milk, cream and sugar.  The ingredients are then placed in a stabilizer where a natural gum made from carob beans is used to act as a hydrocolloid, making the substance more dense.

Having the pleasure of trying the flavors coconut, chocolate chip, and the Oprah-ordained Dark Chocolate, it’s obvious how the smooth, natural flavors graze the pallet, leaving no after taste.  The secret may be his faithful use of the same four gallon Italian made, gelato machine he started out with years ago.

Caporale believes it is necessary to keep his business small, following the same business strategy he has for years.

"It is so difficult to go up, but it is so easy to go down," Caporale said.

In the last three years, Caporale has continued to move his business further, partnering with Costco to sell the flavors Dark Chocolate and Limoncello. From there, he says he sees a future in private labels, continuing to produce signature flavors on an even grander scale. Though Caporale is modest about the potential of his company, it is clearly headed for no place else but the top.

Gelato Massimo is not sold in Watsonville, but it's available at several other stores in Santa Cuz County. Here's where you can buy Gelato Massimo.

Editor's note: This is one in a series about unique Watsonville businesses. Read more here.

Cathy P. April 23, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Sounds delicious, just wondering why it's not sold in Watsonville (?)
Jennifer Squires April 23, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I think that falls into the "why we don't have a Trader Joe's, New Leaf, Whole Foods, etc" question. It's more of a luxury product and, if you look at the stores where he does sell, they're mostly small, locally-owned grocers. We don't have much of that in Watsonville beyond the neighborhood mercados.
Rebecca Tait April 23, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Jennifer, It is made right here, but we can't buy it. I long for us to get a Trader Joes, New Leaf, Costco so we can buy products made or grown here. We have so many empty buildings and lots in this town just waiting for development and creation of new jobs.
Kurt Overmeyer April 23, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Hi Rebecca - Contrary to popular opinion - we really don't have a lot of empty buildings and lots. What empty buildings we do have are "functionally obsolete" and will require a great deal of investment for them to be usable. Unfortunately, the spread between the rents in obsolete buildings and new buildings in rent is not large enough to incentivize investment. We do have a handful of available lots - but most of them have structures that need to be removed or they are too small for most of the types of retail outlets being discussed here - plus, retail outlets don't go into a single building, typically they want to be with other retailers that draw the customers they seek. We have a tough set of issues in Watsonville where we need to be able to assemble enough land to build for the type of retail that people want, too much square footage devoted to retail - but most of it old and out of date - and no tools to put that land together since the state stole our redevelopment money. This will surprise you - our industrial vacancy rate is less than 1%! Even though we have a bunch of older industrial space, it is almost all being used for something. Unfortunately, most of the older space is being used to store cars, RVs or some other type of pure warehouse/storage use and not being used for jobs. We take all the suggestions seriously - but you should also know what we are up against!
Jennifer Squires April 23, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Kurt, do you know if people can buy gelato direct from Massimo at his factory?
Ariel Benson April 23, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I buy it at Super Max at the East Lake Village shopping center. I've seen Vanilla Bean, Chocolate and Strawberry available. If demand were higher, perhaps more flavors would be stocked.
Jennifer Squires April 23, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Ariel, great tip! Thank you.
Kurt Overmeyer April 24, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I don't think so Jennifer. I will reach out to Massimo and find out though!
Barbara Hanson June 14, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Good article. The flavors are so rich, people think there are a ton of calories and fat--Not at all! Gelato is 120 cal/20-40 fat per serving compared to ice cream's 240 cal/140 of which is fat! The sorbet is even better--90 calories and NO FAT...You cannoit beat the flavor. Let it sit out a tad to soften a bit and bring out more of the flavor. When a little melted at the edges, savor!


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