La Paloma is The Best Of The Best for Italian Gelato

One would be hard-pressed to find a local gelatiere with more passion for his business and gusto for his product than owner Salvatore Giannone. Ever wonder how a gelato shop survives 50 years in a city that sees two months of summer? City Life Magazine gets the scoop on Giannone’s secret to success and what it means to him to be a proud Canadian entrepreneur.

In a reflection of Italy’s culinary attributes, there are many foods and flavours that can be vigorously debated as being the “most Italian.” For 50 years in southern Ontario there has been no doubt to the customers of La Paloma that a fine Italian gelato paired with a rich espresso speaks perfect Italian to them.

La Paloma Authentic Gelateria and Café has been the preferred destination for those who appreciate a celebrated Italian tradition of the ultimate in delicious gelato prepared with authentic methods, and the very definition of an entrepreneurial business in the spirit, style and approach of its day-to-day-operations. Many older customers today have been coming to La Paloma for close to five decades.

“When it started it used to be just a men’s café for socializing in the Italian tradition, but in 1998 we turned La Paloma into an establishment for the entire family,” says co-owner Salvatore Giannone. “I was friends with the original owners when I came on board in 1988 and was serving coffees. I began to learn the business of making ice cream by myself. You learn very well that way because there is no other school that can teach you like yourself.”

Giannone took over as an owner in 1990 and La Paloma has never looked back. Founded in 1967, its original location was in the west end of Corso Italia on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto, but it expanded to Woodbridge in 2001 and, most recently, to an outlet in Yorkdale Mall in 2012. From its original six or seven flavours on offer, customers now have a bounty of more than 75 gelato flavours to choose from, the most in Toronto. Many customers are attracted simply by the wide variety of flavours available. In a remarkable nod to the obvious, Giannone simply says that all the flavours are successful. “If they’re not, we don’t carry them anymore.”

Tradition is central to the success of La Paloma, which creates its gelatos with classic Italian methods, allowing for more intense flavouring and a smoother, softer texture. Without giving away secrets, he says slow churning speeds create a dense, flavourful finished product known for its incredible depth. For Giannone, it is a hands-on business that is a labour of love.

“I open up the Woodbridge store every morning, take inventory and shop as needed,” says Giannone. “Then I go to the St. Clair location to ensure everything is OK, then to Yorkdale. In the summertime, it’s 15 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, but I don’t mind, I’m very happy.”

The laid-back atmosphere at La Paloma always leaves customers satisfied, and its commitment to customer service clearly sets it apart. But, of course, it is the outstanding product that has kept thousands coming back over the past 50 years. La Paloma has dedicated itself to quality, exercising tremendous care and using only the finest available ingredients to provide what customers always expect: consistently great-tasting gelato.

Giannone arrived from Palermo, Sicily, on September 4, 1963, at the age of 19 and as one of five brothers. He was originally a tailor in the Spadina and College area of Toronto for 24 years. He has been married for 50 years this year and is the proud father of one son. Two of his three grandsons are already coming in to help at La Paloma from time to time, carrying on a rich family tradition and even suggesting some new flavours based upon their kid-friendly palates, which enjoy Oreo cookies, s’mores and Smarties candies.

“I love Italy, and Italy is always in my heart,” says Giannone. “But I must admit I believe Canada is the best country in the world. From my experience, I see it as the land of opportunity.”

It’s not just Canadians and Torontonians who adore La Paloma, as its success has spread to Europe and even Hollywood royalty. “We always have many famous Italian singers in our St. Clair location when they are in town for the CHIN Picnic,” says Giannone, who also gets a lot of business during TIFF, with such stars as Robert De Niro, Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone among the dedicated converts. “Gere was having dinner at a downtown restaurant, but for his dessert, [he] sent his driver to La Paloma to pick up a big bucket of soya gelato.”

As for the secret of his success, Giannone wastes few words. “In this life, you become successful if you do something you really love and have a true passion for.” For himself and his customers, that is La Paloma.

Interview By Rebecca Alberico
Photo by carlos a. pinto

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