Watching Dolcezza co-owner Robb Dunan lead a tour of his company’s new gelato factory near Union Market is kind of like watching Willy Wonka wander through his chocolate factory. He jumps from one new feature to the next, urging people to try a taste of this or take a look at that and chatting enthusiastically the whole time. (Fortunately, no one fell into a chocolate river.)
The 4,000-square-foot factory, which opens Saturday, is Dolcezza’s fifth location in the D.C. area and will become the headquarters for its production. It’s a big expansion for the company, which until now has been making its artisanal gelato in a 300-square- foot kitchen below its Georgetown shop. With four production bays, two walk-in freezers, and a ton of other fancy new equipment (Duncan even has his own peanut butter grinder), the factory will churn out eight to 10 different varieties of gelato a day—five times more than the Georgetown kitchen. The factory also has a walk-in fridge and tons of shelving for storing the locally sourced ingredients that Dolcezza prides itself on.
But the new location isn’t just making gelato—it’s also selling it. Starting next spring, customers can walk in between noon and 7 p.m. for a tasting of whatever gelato is being made that day. Flavors will be posted on a chalkboard near the front of the store, along with a down-to-the-minute record of when they were churned, and samples will be served in small porcelain bowls. If people like what they taste, they can buy a whole bowl (a small is $5.25, while the large goes for $6.45) or even a pint to take home ($10.50).
The advantage of same-day tastings, Duncan says, is that the gelato doesn’t need to be tempered for a long stay in the freezer.
“The best possible ice cream, gelato, frozen treat, whatever is what’s falling right out of the freezer,” Duncan says. “It’s going to be so soft, and the cooler temperature means you can really taste the flavors.”
The factory also doubles as a coffee “lab,” serving coffee exclusively from Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters. (Experts from Stumptown’s New York branch will also be coming down to the factory to train Dolcezza’s baristas.)
“With our Dupont location, we started to realize that we are as much a coffee shop as we are about gelato,” says Duncan’s wife and co-owner Violeta Edelman. “And [Duncan] is just obsessed with coffee, so it worked.”
Though the experience of eating Dolcezza gelato at the factory is pretty elaborate (porcelain bowls, guys), the atmosphere of the factory/tasting room/cafe is very industrial. The entire space is open to the public, so customers tasting at the bar can watch their gelato being made at one of the production bays. A lot of the furniture is either repurposed from other factories (including two work tables from an old Hershey’s chocolate factory) or recycled from Duncan’s own business (a huge shelf behind the bar is made entirely out of the crates his produce comes in). A skylight and two garage doors studded with windows keep the whole space well-lit.
It’s worth visiting tomorrow from 2 to 6 p.m., if you can. The grand opening event involves free samples of gelato, chats with the farmers who supply the ingredients, and coffee tastings. After that, the factory will close to walk-in visitors until March.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, this post initially stated that Stumptown Coffee is based in Seattle. It is based in Portland, but also has locations in Seattle.
Photo by Sarah Kaplan