PUBLISHED: 4:04 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Heritage Coffee goes sweet with gelato
A brief on business with five questions
Travis Smith, 26, of Heritage Coffee, has worked for the company near 10 years, and is the current operations manager. Since 1974, Juneau's coffee roaster Heritage Coffee has been in business, and has six store locations. Heritage Café has been voted Juneau's Best Coffee and Espresso for 10 years in a row. Aside from food and drinks, cafés also carry select retail items, including coffee makers, tea, mugs, and accessories.

Heritage Coffee company has been featured regionally and nationally in Alaska Magazine, Alaska Airlines Magazine, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, as well as in trade magazines. In addition the company has produced lectures and presentations for several programs including the Specialty Coffee Association of America's, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of high quality coffee in America annual convention. In June of 2006, Heritage Coffee began retailing hand-made gelato at Heritage Cafe Downtown Juneau, and then recently at the Heritage 2nd Street Café.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Travis Smith, operations manager of Heritage Coffee, prepares fresh churned gelato for store distributions at Wild Spice kitchen site, both owned by Grady Saunders.
What is gelato and how is it made?

Gelato is a style of Italian ice cream that is very dense, more flavorful and has less fat than regular ice cream. It is made in 10-liter batches and each batch takes approximately 15 minutes. It's pasteurized then churned in a chilled cylinder, until it is the consistency of frozen yogurt. It's then removed and frozen solid.

How did you learn to make gelato?

I was trained by an Italian technician, a woman who works for the company that we purchase our ingredients from. She also owns two gelato stores, one in Vancouver BC, and one in New York. We were able to spend a couple days going over the basics, and the how to's, and the what not to do's of the production.

What are the most popular and oddest flavors?

Our most popular flavor is chocolate peanut butter cup. It's our chocolate gelato, with Reese's cups, and a smooth peanut butter swirl worked through it. There are so many flavors to make, it seems that the best sellers are the ones with extras strewn throughout. It's hard to say which might be the oddest flavor. I have not had much response to the melon. One guy I was working with had some training in Italy, and they would do vegetable flavored gelatos and serve them with meals as a course.

What's the busiest time of year concerning gelato sales?

Our busiest time is definitely the summer. All the increased traffic Downtown certainly brings more people in. Gelato is really just becoming mainstream in the Lower 48, but I heard a lot of good things said about it this summer by visitors that had either been to Italy, or had it in their home town. Many people said it was on par or better than what they could find. On average, we were producing nearly 80-100 pans a week. Each pan is five liters.

How did the idea to retail gelato come about at Heritage Coffee?

This is something we have been looking into for years now. It tastes great and has amazing visual appeal, and was another avenue for us to bring traffic into our stores. Most everyone likes ice cream. Who wouldn't love a freshly made, smooth and creamy treat that has more flavor and less fat than regular ice cream? Try some, and you will be hard pressed to enjoy regular ice cream ever again.

Production and storage space has been our only concern to date and we're currently relocating the production site and expanding our storage capacity.