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.