From the swanky eateries of New York City to the wholesome richness of southern fare, the East Coast of the United States is synonymous with fine cuisine. Incorporate the artisanal elegance offered by gelaterias like Sugarland of North Carolina to complete the equation of deliciousness. Gelato is increasingly becoming a more exciting and intense part of western culture thanks to this exceptional dessert stop. The added bonus of this gelateria/bakery is one resounding theme: to make people happy by providing quality products and impeccable service. With principles like these, it turns out the East has eats you must cruise by.
Doc and Katrina Ryan DR/KR
140 E. Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
JM: What inspired you to open a gelateria?
DR/KR: We had eaten great gelato all across Europe in our travels, yet there was no really great gelato in North Carolina at the time, and we really believed that if most Americans could taste authentic artisanal gelato, that they would love it and support it.
JM: What do you think is the key to
DR/KR: Quality in everything we do. We use the best ingredients in the market from PreGel; we use the best local fresh fruit in season, and the best frozen local fruit picked at the peak of their ripeness and blast-frozen when the local fruit is out of season. We use the best local milk, the best gelato machine and the best training provided by PreGel, to help us produce the best gelato we can.
JM: If you could create any flavor, what
would it be?
DR: Katrina is a professional pastry chef, and we took the PreGel advanced gelato course, so she creates any flavor she desires to keep things fresh and fun in the shop. One of her best creations was a unique blend of pomegranate, pineapple and passion fruit. The oddest flavor she ever did for a customer’s special order was olive oil and pepper gelato.
JM: How long have you been in business?
DR/KR: Three years.
JM: How many stores/shops do you own?
DR/KR: One and we are currently scouting locations in Raleigh for a second store in the coming year. Location is clearly the most important decision once you have a proven concept, because regardless of the superb quality of your product, the wrong location for something as unique as gelato can kill the business.
JM: What’s on your menu?
DR/KR: We have 24 flavors of gelato every day, rotated daily and by season of the year to assure variety, but still offering flavors that our customers can always expect to be there. We have a full upscale bakery, and we have a bar to add a European touch so customers can have gelato with Cointreau, Bailey’s Irish Cream or espresso.
JM: What is the main thing you would want people to know about your business?
DR/KR: That we believe in traditional, artisanal gelato in the classic gelato flavors that are found in the great shops of Italy and are based upon time-honored traditions of craftsmanship, quality and excellence in every phase of the gelato experience.
JM: What are your goals? Would you like to franchise your business or expand your menu?
DR/KR: We don’t believe in franchising. It is exceptionally difficult to maintain your own high standards when someone else owns the shop and is the boss. As we expand, it will be with company stores run by people trained in our Chapel Hill facility, people who have a passion for gelato, for creativity and for quality.
JM: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in business?
DR/KR: Nothing is ever like you first thought it was going to be in this business. Accept your inability to predict the future, be prepared for the unexpected, learn new lessons about your particular market, double your efforts to learn from the experience, and adapt, improvise and overcome. It is that unique experience of your shop, your market, your staff that gives you the knowledge and information you really need to know to make good decisions and be successful.
JM: What drives/inspires you?
DR/KR: The entire gelato staff takes pride in making the best gelato possible and making Sugarland a wonderful experience for our clients. We have worked hard to make Sugarland a destination where clients will return over and over because they love the experience of great gelato, a beautiful store and warm, helpful service. Having people tell us or post on Facebook how much they love coming to Sugarland is what makes all of our staff take pride in the job they do every day. Our whole family of Sugarland employees is responsible for our success because they take genuine pride and satisfaction in their accomplishments each day.
JM: Do you have events at your shop?
DR/KR: No, we believe in marketing on a daily basis, largely through our website and our social media to announce specials available only to our Facebook fans, over 4,000 and growing. And we announce new flavors and other special treats available for a limited time via our website, Facebook and Twitter.
JM: Is there an occurrence/business blooper you would most like to forget?
DR: I can’t remember any. ☺
JM: What do you think sets you apart from other gelaterias?
DR/KR: Passion for gelato, beautiful, fresh, creative gelato flavors, imaginative mixes that are delicious and innovative, the best ingredients and an impeccable staff. That is the difference between passion and mediocrity—the detail and the high standards, which are the essence of great gelato.
JM: How did you come up with the name for your business?
DR: Katrina was born just a few hours from Sugarland, Texas, and her first cookbook given to her at age 5 came from the Imperial Sugar Company of Sugarland, and she still has it; so when it came time to name the company, that was her natural choice.
JM: What is one of your most rewarding experiences/greatest success?
DR/KR: One of our high points was when The Food Network chose to film an episode about us for their show, “Kid in a Candy Store,” with Adam Gertler, and they spent two days filming in Sugarland. Another event occurred this spring when we were selected to make the dessert for The First Lady (Michelle Obama) and Martha Stewart when they hosted Operation Shower for Marine wives with deployed husbands at the Camp Lejeune Marine base.