Toronto-based Nani’s Gelato started as a food truck business just before the pandemic and now has three stores in the Greater Toronto Area with plans to franchise the concept for expansion across Canada and into the United States.
“I started Nani’s Gelato as a food truck in the summer of 2019. I started off as a food truck because quite literally at that time real estate was so hot – I mean it’s still hot – but the retail commercial space was so hot pre-pandemic, I couldn’t find a retail space to open up,” said Parry Sohi, the owner of the company.
“I had purchased all of my machines, and all of my equipment without anywhere to put it. So I said I was going to buy a food truck and actually make everything, put it on a food truck and drive around Toronto every single day.”
The first physical store opened on May 31 in 2020 on Charles Street East near Yonge and Bloor. He then opened a location in Mississauga and in recent weeks launched its latest in Liberty Village in Toronto.
“We specialize in gelato. We make everything on site at every location, fresh every morning,” said Sohi. “And that’s our sole focus. We do gelato in cups, cones, milk shakes, cookie sandwiches and take-home 500 ml pints. That’s all we do.
“My background is in franchising. I made the decision in kind of early 2022 that we were going to franchise the concept out. The Liberty Village location was our first franchise location. We have another franchisee right now that we’re on the verge of finalizing an actual location with and then we have probably another five franchisees that are just coming on board in the final stages of legal paperwork.
“Ultimately we want to open up about give or take around 40 locations across Canada in the next 24 to 36 months, conservatively.”
The first rollout of stores will be focused on the GTA.
“I sold my last company and it was a franchising company but completely non-food related business. When I sold that I knew I wanted to go into food because I grew up in a food family. My dad operated quick service restaurants when I was growing up. And one of those QSR’s was ice cream. It was a softer ice cream. It’s iconic. It’s still open and operating,” said Sohi.
“But when I was looking at all the concepts I really liked of his, right away I thought of that one because people were always happy when they came. It was quick service. Low retail footprint. We did really high volume in the summers and it kind of gave you a little bit of down time to rest and relax. And in my opinion at that time when I first looked at it, I didn’t think that there had been a lot of evolution in the frozen dessert category.
“I went down to the University of Wisconsin and I took their hard ice cream course. I trained locally with some local gelato classes and then I flew down to the U.S. and trained with an Italian gelato chef there. When I came back I was looking at different frozen dessert categories and I thought gelato was the best because I had flexibility in how I wanted to manipulate the flavours for a more unique product.”
Sohi said that while the majority of growth in the future will be through the franchise concept the company remains open to growing its corporate stores as well.
“I love the brand so much. We know that it operates so well. Our ability to take on corporate locations is really easy. For example, if we find a site or a location in a geographic area that we might not have a franchisee ready to go for, we’ll sign the deal, we’ll open the location, we’ll operate because I have a lot of confidence in the brand,” he said.
“We’re also expanding into the U.S. as well.”