Capogiro, a four-store gelato chain in Philadelphia, was dubbed the No. 1 place for ice cream in the world by “National Geographic.”
According to “National Geographic,” Philadelphia should be celebrated for more than just its cheesesteaks. Among Argentina, Jamaica and nine other hot spots around the world, the magazine recently gave Philly’s Capogiro Gelato the number one spot on its Top 10 list of places to dig into some ice cream.
Capogiro has four gelato cafés throughout Philly
“It was shocking,” said co-founder Stephanie Reitano who opened up Capogiro with her husband back in 2002. “Being in the food industry is tough, so it’s nice when you’re working really hard and [a publication] like ‘National Geographic’ thinks you’re doing good and gives you a pat on the back.”
Reitano said she wasn’t aware Capogiro was being included on the list until it was already published online by the magazine.
It was a trip to Italy 11 years ago that first triggered the idea for the couple to open up a gelato shop. John Reitano was born and raised in northern Italy and much of his family still remains in the country. However, the trip was Stephanie Reitano’s first visit and just hours after landfall, the smell of homemade cones lured her toward her first real Italian gelato. She settled on ordering “nocciola” (hazelnut) and “gianduia” (chocolate hazelnut)–a combination that she said remains her favorite today.
“In a way, that very cone started the next part of our marriage,” Stephanie Reitano said. “Because right then and there, we began our business by wondering why we couldn’t find this kind of flavor in the United States.”
Wanting to replicate the artisanal model found in Italy, the Reitanos got to work opening their first gelato shop, basing it around high-quality, local ingredients. Today, with the exception of items like lemons, limes and pineapples, nearly all of the ingredients come from local sources, and are purchased from vendors within Philly.
“If it’s grown here, we buy it here,” Stephanie Reitano said.
All of the milk used to make the gelato in their retail stores comes from a herd of grass-fed cows located a little less than an hour outside of the city.
“What I love about it is they’re very local. It’s seasonal, so you can enjoy things like the pumpkin-pie flavor, and it makes [the experience] different every time you come in,” said customer Nancy Rogers, who ordered a combination of Concord grape and pear. “They also do seasonal things with herbs that are just amazing.”
What’s in season inspires many of the flavors found at Capogiro, like the recent apple cider and fig varieties. The most popular, however, is their cioccolato scuro, a dark chocolate-based gelato that Capogiro labels as “rich, dark and serious.” Other flavors available include molasses, sea salt, banana with dark rum, sweet Amish milk and cashew.
“It’s tremendous ice cream,” Rogers said. “When my dad turned 85, I bought 10 pints and had it mailed to his house in Michigan. He said it was his favorite birthday present.”
In addition to their retail stores, the Reitanos have also set up a national mail order program and wholesale program.
“Especially with the specialty beer flavors, we get a lot of restaurants that want that as wholesale,” Stephanie Reitano said. “It’s really fun. With beer week in Philly we get a lot of people coming in and we have fun helping them with different pairings.”
Every year, Dogfish Brewery makes sure to save a keg of its pumpkin ale for Capogiro to turn into gelato, and other local ales like those from Stoudt’s Brewery can often be found at the gelato shops.
Stephanie Reitano said the only ingredient she wouldn’t experiment with in her gelato is bacon.
“It has nothing to do with kosher, but I just think that’s such a kitschy weird thing,” she said. “I don’t want people ever putting bacon in our ice cream.”
She will, however, let chefs test out their inventive ideas, even if she’s skeptical beforehand. For instance, never being a fan of cilantro, she wasn’t too convinced about the lime cilantro gelato one of her chefs wanted to create. However, the instantly popular flavor quickly made its way to the gelato case.
The only flop Stephanie Reitano can recall is a licorice root variety and a mango goat cheese gelato, but she’s a firm believer that with quality ingredients, nearly anything can be tweaked to taste good.
For customer Addie Weyrich, it’s the crazy flavors that have kept her coming back to Capogiro time and time again since she was just seven years old.
“I went to Italy and I didn’t like it. I prefer Capogiro,” Weyrich, whose current favorite is the apple cider gelato, said. “They have so many crazy flavors, and they’re so much more creative.”
Since the recognition from “National Geographic,” Stephanie Reitano said she’s definitely seen an increase in customers. A significant number of people have told her they made the drive from places like North Jersey or Connecticut to come see if Capogiro truly stacked up as the best in the world.
“You have new people discovering you for the first time, and then all you regulars are just so excited for you, and that’s the best part,” she said.
Grace Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.