Bittersweet Ice Cream

Aldo ice-cream shops are thriving, but the chain's founder, who sold the rights to his original recipe, is today a rank-and-file worker at the Il Pastillo restaurant.

The Aldo ice-cream shops' School of Ice Cream will open on Habarzel Street in Ramat Hahayal in mid-May and will be the largest and most expensive of the chain's stores. Building costs stand at around $1 million and, among other things, it will have Upline stained-glass display cases by Italian designer Carlo Colombo and ice-cream vats that will look as if they are floating in ice cream, a large library of recipes, plasma screens and also a workshop on ice-cream making. Behind the large budget and the thriving chain, which today has 29 branches and another eight belonging to the subsidiary company, Tartufo, lies a story that contains ingredients that are not necessarily heavy cream, eggs and sugar that are processed according to an Italian recipe. It is the story of a now 73-year-old chef, who came to Israel in 1993 and set up the first Italian ice-cream shop using a recipe he developed in the city of Monte Bianco, Italy. He is no longer a partner in the flourishing chain; today he is a general worker at the Il Pastillo restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Aldo Deconsilio opened his first ice-cream shop at 122 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, and within a few years added a few more branches. In the meantime, he separated from one wife, lives with another and isn't managing to establish himself financially. In 2004, he asked the franchisee, Meir Dahan ("I owned the chain's fourth branch," says Dahan) to buy part of Aldo and become a partner. Dahan also brought in Yuval Maimon, a former high-tech man at Amdocs, as a partner in the chain. The three became partners with equal rights. When Deconsilio encountered financial difficulties, Maimon and Dahan bought out his share, including the rights to the ice-cream recipe, and continued on their way.

The two founded a couple of factories which manufacture ice cream for, among others, the Aroma Israel chain, and El Al's business class. Over the next two months they are planning to open two Aldo ice-cream shops in Manhattan and one in Guangzhou, China. Deconsilio in the meantime has been employed for the last two months at the veteran pasta restaurant owned by his childhood friends from Milan, Vitoria and Moshe Sereno. He does everything there: ice creams and cooked dishes, serving and cleaning. "Write that we're not helping him, rather he's helping Il Pastillo," says Moshe Sereno, wrapped in an apron and full of good will, over the espresso machine.

To the Sereno family, this is "a financial and culinary culture clash between Israelis and Italians." "He is naive, like all the Italians, and that's the reason why he's here," sighs Vitoria Sereno. "The Israelis always say that they'll do everything better. Italians understand only about food, when it comes to business, it's possible to bypass them. He didn't understand anything about it and they did understand a lot about it and this is the outcome. But food has to have soul. A recipe isn't enough, something else is needed too."

It's Friday afternoon and at Il Pastillo the last customers are seated. Italian cooking diplomas hang along the entire length of the walls. "These diplomas aren't given to just anyone, rather only to those who have proven knowledge," explains Deconsilio, who also holds such diplomas and even received a title from the Italian government for the ice-cream recipe he developed.

"For three years, I studied how to make ice cream, and today I'm not all connected to the Aldo chain. Even when I was still a partner they opened the Tartufo chain and I wasn't entitled to any money from it by law, because it is ostensibly a new chain, despite the fact that it is based on the same know-how. It was, as far as I'm concerned, an exercise to bypass me. Legal perhaps, but it's not nice."

NIS 500,000 per franchise

Maimon and Dahan for their part say they not only lent money to Deconsilio, but also bought the ice-cream recipe from him for several hundred thousand shekels. According to them, the information on how to prepare the ice cream is like "knowledge in pastry making, the moment you learn it, you can create many free variations and the sky's the limit." Today, a franchisee seeking to open a branch of the Aldo chain will pay the two around NIS 500,000 and will be required to purchase the raw materials and equipment from them.

Dahan adds that "Aldo maintains the first right, he created amazing ice cream, but today the recipe is ours, and the franchisees manufacture ice cream according to this recipe and also add to it. You could say that every branch, from Eilat to Nahariya, produces personalized ice- cream flavors according to the tastes of each franchisee. "This is also why we are opening the School of Ice Cream, in order to get new franchisees used to preparing ice cream and to hold supplementary training programs for veteran franchisees. Everything is done as it should be.

"The School of Ice Cream will also have an additional program, for amateur homemade ice-cream lovers who have ice-cream makers at home to prepare ice cream and have usually been disappointed with the results," says Maimon. Deconsilio, for his part, notes that you have to know how to make good ice cream, and to take particular care with the method and with the raw materials.

Deconsilio, whose son owns the Aldo shop in Barcelona, still promises that he will open his own ice-cream shop once "he recovers a bit." In the meantime at the School of Ice Cream, they are awaiting the designer display case from Italy.