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."
Depending on what's available, Spangaro might make prickly pear gelato or tequila lime sorbet. Organic yogurt gelato requires him to cook a special base just for that flavor, but the result is worth it the taste and texture put ordinary frozen yogurt to shame.
And for private customers, Spangaro's gone even more exotic, whipping up gelato with champagne, Jack Daniel's (with more than a liter and a half in one pan), or red Zinfandel grapes from a friend's Napa Valley estate. One time, he even made a decadent gelato using white truffles from Alba. The delicacies are available only from December to February, and this year, they ran about $1,800 a pound. He sold it by the pan, but if he'd sold it by the scoop, it would've been 10 or 12 dollars apiece.
Right now, Spangaro's in the process of getting copyrights for his gelato base recipes. He could make a fortune on them if he wanted to, but he'd rather protect them than sell them. Although he wouldn't rule out franchising if his high standards could be maintained, at the moment, his plan is to start training a young man to make gelato this summer, in the hopes of opening a second shop next year. They've been talking about it since before Spangaro even opened Arlecchino.
Plenty of people have offered to work for him for free, but he's extremely wary. "I know where they're coming from," he says. There also have been a few incidents of people asking employees very specific, technical questions about how Spangaro makes his gelato.
A few months after Arlecchino opened, somebody broke into the shop and tried to steal the recipes. They didn't actually take anything off the premises; instead, they lined up dozens of pages of Spangaro's notes all in Italian and, apparently, took photos of them. (Turns out, the notes did not include the recipes.)