The Big Chill

One Valley gelateria has the competition licked

As a kid, Spangaro was always around restaurants; his father owned five. He started helping behind the counter at age 12 and entered a two-year culinary program at 15. A year later, he juggled his studies with a catering job that sometimes had him working more than 50 hours in a three-day weekend. And at age "18 and a half," Spangaro opened his own pizzeria in Trieste.

His 12-table place was always packed. They served more than 30 kinds of thin-crust, wood-fired pizza, with exquisite toppings that he'll describe only off the record. "Oh, I used to make good pizza," he says, sounding momentarily nostalgic. He got tired of it, though, and turned his half of the restaurant over to his business partner after two and a half years.

Why the switch to gelato, then? "Of all the things I've worked with in the restaurant industry," he says, "gelato is the most fun."

Spangaro didn't jump into it right away, though. After leaving the pizza biz, he moved to Los Angeles. His 11-year-old daughter still lives there, with her mother. He prefers to stay mum on most of the details of his life in L.A., but he will say that he returned to Italy several times over the years. He got together with Marina in 2000, and, soon after, she moved to the States to be with him.

Marina is allowed in the back of the shop, of course, but usually she's busy waiting on customers. Besides, her husband likes to make gelato in the morning.

He misses the quality of life in Italy but says everything's harder there: You need more training and more experience to own any kind of business, and you'll pay much higher taxes on everything.

"The system (in Italy) doesn't allow you to be who you want to be," Spangaro says. "There are incredible talents there. But here, if you're good, you can create your own line of what you want to do. Your talent can stand out."

That said, he needed to return to Trieste to learn how to make gelato. And none of it would've been possible without his mentor, Fabio Sacchetto, the man Spangaro calls his "maestro."

Sacchetto is a true gelataio — a title reserved for someone who knows how to make everything himself, from scratch — and his product is certified gelato artigianale, artisanal gelato. In a country full of gelato makers and gelato shops, it's a rare, hard-earned designation that signifies the highest possible quality. Sacchetto does not speak much English, but his shop's Web site — all in Italian — does note his artisanal methods and philosophy of using only fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Spangaro first visited Sacchetto's shop, Udevalla, about 15 years ago. It was the best gelato he'd ever had, and he hasn't found better since. In 2003, he approached Sacchetto about learning his art.

"I told him, 'Honestly, you are the best gelato maker I can find, and I'd like to learn how to make gelato this way.' I didn't want to go for my second or third choice," says Spangaro.

"It took 60 seconds for my maestro to say yes to me," he continues. "I started the same day! It was five days a week, 12 hours a day, for 20 months." With no pay. "I couldn't accept any money."

So from 2003 to 2005, Spangaro made gelato and pastries all day in a shop even smaller than Arlecchino. "The location is horrible, but people go there for the quality. My maestro opens at 5:30 p.m. with 30 people already in line."

When he and and his wife came back to the U.S., Spangaro looked into opening his own gelateria in Los Angeles but couldn't find a location that worked. Then, a good friend who used to live in L.A. invited the couple to visit Phoenix. Before long, they moved here, and four and a half months later, in December 2005, they opened Arlecchino.


After 16 months in business, thanks to strong word of mouth about Arlecchino, the converts just keep on coming.

Several clean-cut young guys who work for University of Phoenix show up like clockwork every Friday to eat four or five scoops of gelato for lunch. Recently, another big group of people has started dropping by regularly too. There's a couple who drive up from Tucson every other weekend, just for gelato. And then there are the random individuals who casually drop in, like the young Mormon man who completed a two-year mission in Italy and speaks with Marina and Moreno in fluent Italian (Mormons are hooked on gelato, he says), or the friendly old gentleman whose family owned one of the most distinguished pastry shops in Trieste, the Spangaros' hometown. Arlecchino is a magnet for native Italians.

It draws the foodies, too, thanks to Moreno Spangaro's unusual flavors. One of his original recipes, called Valentino, uses an infusion of pomegranate, berries, rose petals and lavender. Another one, called Vesuvio, is sold only on weekends — it's made with chocolate gelato and layers of crushed hazelnuts and chocolate wafers mixed with Grand Marnier.

"This flavor goes like crazy," Spangaro says one day, as he's mixing a batch. "There used to be a woman who'd come in right at opening time on Friday, 11:30 a.m., and buy the whole pan of it. Now, it's only for sale after 5 on Fridays."

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12 comments
Ben
Ben

Viva La Arlecchino! Anybody who claims this as overpriced severely undervalues top quality... A scoop of heaven for $4? I'll take 2 please.

Giorgio Tresoldi
Giorgio Tresoldi

This is what the New times is all about, I'm garateful you do stories about the small guy doing a better job than the big companies, I refuse to eat the baskisn's the dipping's the ben's and all the other chemical artificial colors and flavors.......for the price of real stuff, I hope arlecchino keeps up the quality and does not enter the game of the big companies with kids runing the store and fast instant gelato like others.

Danila Marchetti
Danila Marchetti

It's good to have a healty alternative, franchises are poisoning us with the processed,and artificial flavors and colors.

Rosa Cordova
Rosa Cordova

I travel to phoenix just for the gelato!

frank medina
frank medina

I used to go there to get the pizza at the place next door at la grand orange but now I go to arlecchino to get gelato.....then if I have room pizza!

aldo magnano
aldo magnano

this is the best gelato i have ever tasted, glad you did the story, went there and tried it earlier, it was hard to stop ordering more, going back after dinner.oh yeah the guy that said it's overpriced, compared to what? other gelatos and ice creams are about the same and they are air filled.

aldo magnano

Harland Beuden
Harland Beuden

WOW! I could not believe the great taste of the pistachio gelato, out of this world.

Guille Castillo
Guille Castillo

I'm hooked for life, best gelato I have ever tasted, my favorite is the coffe, as far as the comment someone made about it being overpriced.....crazy! it's the best product for the money.

Guille castillo

sergio moreno
sergio moreno

as a proffessional pilot I have traveled the world and in Italy got hooked on gelato, I have walked the main streets in Rome,Milano and Verona trying every gelato shop in sight, my amazement was I found the best gelato in phoenix at arlecchino gelateria, when you learn how gelato is supposed to taste you can tell if there are chemicals, when the gelato is gummy or tastes good at first but than you get the aftertaste you know there are chemicals and preservatives in it, also if you feel sleepy or heavy after heaving your gelato you have consumed corn syrup instead of good quality sugar, the beatiful bright colors belong on clothing not in gelato.thank you Marina and Moreno for bringing to phoenix the best gelato I have ever tasted.

sergio moreno, El Paso texas

so what
so what

4 pages on overpriced ice cream? Slow news year?

 
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