Vancouver’s world-famous gelato maker James Coleridge eyes expansion

James Coleridge | BCBusiness
James Coleridge in his new Yaletown location

Coleridge already has plans for Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhoods—and then the world

If you asked Vancouver’s best-known gelato maker, he’d say he’s more artist than businessman.
But how does a self-proclaimed gelato artist stay true to his art as his business grows into a brand? For renowned gelato maker James Coleridge, who just opened his second space in Yaletown on August 28, that age-old tension between quality and quantity is—not unlike a typical gelato-induced brain freeze—front and centre as he looks to expand his franchise in the coming years both locally, with new locations in the works for some of Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhoods, and abroad.
That ambition for cautious growth extends to his menu, as well. His new 2,482 square-foot, 80-seat restaurant on Marinaside Crescent seeks to bring visitors “the true Italian experience” by serving a range of new offerings alongside the gelato that Bella Gelateria is known for. Heartier breakfast, lunch and dinner menus include wood-fired pizzas, cured meat and cheese antipasti, paninis, and, as part of Coleridge’s latest invention, gelatinis—cocktails made with gelato.
Ever since opening his first Coal Harbour Bella Gelateria shop in 2010, Coleridge has been racking up first-place prizes at gelato competitions around the globe, including the Firenze Gelato Festival in Italy and the Gelato World Tour in Texas. Since then, the original Bella Gelateria continues to attract tourists, locals and gelato foodies alike. On sunny days, lines for gelato with flavours such as black sesame, Earl Grey tea and buko pandan often snake out into the street. Waiting times have reached an hour.
A third West Vancouver location is scheduled to open in late 2016, while cafés in Kitsilano and Main Street are also being developed. In the future, Coleridge plans to bring Bella Gelateria to a global market by opening up the first international location in Los Angeles, as well as eventually taking the business to Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Nonetheless, Coleridge feels that it is important to stay true to the basics, such as supporting local farmers, opting for fresh and seasonal ingredients, and making new batches of gelato daily. Those lessons were first taught to him when he was studying the art of gelato making at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Italy.
But in a city that has a strong taste for its mini-franchises—with classic Vancouver hotspots such as JJ Bean, Forty Ninth Parallel and Cupcakes by Heather and Lori serving as only a few examples—how does one expand quickly without losing sight of the individual and artistic approach that Bella Gelateria is known for? According to Coleridge, this is something that remains a perpetual, albeit exciting, challenge.
“Maintaining that quality is something that I constantly remind myself of with every batch of every day,” Coleridge says. “But if you really care about what you do and you have passion, you’re going to always try and perfect it.”
At the same time, Coleridge says that a large part of his success comes from working with a key group of people that he can rely on. As part of his plan to expand the Bella Gelateria community, Coleridge is partnering with Carpigiani Gelato University to bring the top graduates of the program to work as interns for him in Vancouver. By teaching these students the tricks of the trade and helping them grow as gelato artists, Coleridge hopes to continue the legacy of a product that is now known as the crème de la crème of Vancouver’s gelato scene.
“A true master in any skill is about passing those skills on to other people,” Coleridge says. “A true master does not protect or preserve or hide his skills. It’s about sharing.”