Let's Eat

Anita Gelato has landed in London - here's the scoop on the balaboosta behind the brand

There's a real-life Cinderella story behind Israel's favourite ice cream


When Anita Avital was widowed in her 30's she was faced with a fight for survival to support her young family.

The youngest, Nir, was only three years old, and the Israeli-born mother of four was forced to hold down multiple jobs to support them all. Her work included cleaning and working in supermarkets. Daughter-in-law, Adi Erez Avital says that despite the challenges, the house was never sad.

“She used to feed all the local kids. To this day, friends and family remember the special dishes she’d cook like schnitzel and couscous. She’d take traditional Moroccan cookies to every special event in the neighbourhood. Her children remember her constant optimism and “a unique talent for food.”

Adi is Anita’s global head of operations and marketing, working alongside husband Nir; brother-in-law — Adi Avital , and her 73-year-old mother-in-law, Anita, the company’s eponymous co-founder and inspiration.

She is speaking to me as the best English-speaker of the founding family. proudly sharing that Anita’s story is one of “hard work and fortitude”. Anita's husband Yakov had died suddenly after a lung infection. “He had worked hard after the army and had been successful but was also so generous that he’d given a lot of his money away.”

Adi explains that her husband, Nir, had been a bit of a bad boy. “He was always in trouble — he didn’t want to study and spent more time playing football than in school.”

After the army, 23-year-old Nir was working at the warehouse of a retail company and, in his spare time, creating ice cream flavours with a domestic ice cream machine. He and his mother together developed a base recipe — the basic vanilla or chocolate-flavoured gelato — and added flavours to it, mixing in ingredients like cookies and jams.

“Anita used to make this cake called cremeschnitte (a puff pastry custard and cream layer cake) and also pear and walnut jam that Nir mixed into the base.”

To earn extra money, he set up a stall at a busy junction in Netanya. “Word spread, the lines got longer and longer. and [brother] Adi saw the business potential. Adi and his siblings had all studied, been to university and wanted to help him Nir find a job, so Adi took on a role of silent partner.

In 2002, the first Anita store opened — a tiny unit in Neve Tzedek, which was at that time a run-down and slightly rough suburb of Tel Aviv. Nir and Anita would commute there daily, from Netanya, often finishing after midnight and starting to make ice cream the next morning at five.

“It was very difficult at first — they’d wait all day to sell one scoop. And then they were burgled. “The burglars stole all the cash and also broke glass that got into the ice creams. The whole lot had to be thrown away and as they had not been able to afford insurance they literally had to start again. No bank would lend to them except one, and that was because the manager had become friendly with Nir.”

It was at this store that Avi (our spokesperson) arrives on the scene after visiting the tiny Anita ice cream shop in Tel Aviv. She had no idea that this dessert stop would change her life.

"It was Rosh Hashanah and I’d gone to eat ice cream at 11pm. It was my first time there — I’d heard about it and took a friend. Nir served me and was flirting. He gave me so much extra gelato I couldn’t finish it.”

She tells me that Nir sent one of his staff to ask for her number. They went out on their first date a month later and 10 years on they are married with three children. And the ice cream shop where they met is now Israel’s largest ice cream chain, with branches in the US, Puerto Rico, Australia and now London. The bases and flavourings are made in a purpose-built factory in Ra’anana and sister brand, Golda, has also been established.

“We wanted to keep the Anita name boutique, so Golda is there to give an option to family and friends to open ice cream shops using the same model. We supply them with all the base and flavours.”

The group sells 20 million scoops a year but only landed in London this year. What took them so long? “We wanted to get the right location and the right manager” explains Adi. The new store is in Upper St MArtin’s Lane in London’s West End.

As in every store, the ice creams are made on-site, using the company’s bases and various flavours – 36 in store and more than 200 in total. Their signature flavour is chocolate pretzel.
“Five years ago, Nir invented a chocolate pretzel spread that we mix into a chocolate base — it’s sweet and salty. In Israel people use the chocolate pretzel spread for cakes — someone even put it on a steak!”

Visiting the vintage-styled store despite trying several flavours, it was impossible to choose my favourite. Avi tells me it’s important to the Avitals that the gelato is rich in flavour and texture. Every mouthful was packed with punch.

If the gelato variety doesn’t give you flavour anxiety, there’s also the choice between that and their soft serve frozen yoghurt or vegan açai plus a bank of sauces and toppings for them.
“We’re not like other stores we don’t put a limit on the number — you can have as many as you want” smiles Avi. Almost as if the balaboosta herself is behind the counter urging you to eat.

And if you go to their Florentin branch (in Tel Aviv) you may find her there. “She’s lives right next to the shop and she’s always in there telling them what to do” laughs Avi.

Anita Gelato

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