Tucked near the upper-level entrance to the Chestnut Hill Mall lies a small gelato shop that a casual passerby might mistake for just another one of those underwhelming ice cream-but-not-really-ice cream shops that seem to be everywhere nowadays. This assumption would be a tragic mistake.
The extent of this mistake gets clearer as soon as you step through Morano Gelato’s glass entrance, where you find yourself faced with a stunning display of flavors that could include everything from matcha or custard, to the more traditional pistachio or fior de latte. Once you get a sample of the gelato—something immediately offered by the friendly staff behind the counter—you finally realize how very wrong your first assumption was.
In a world where bigger and bolder is better, it remains all too easy to forget the fact that often, the most straightforward things are the most beautiful. And this beauty might take the form of Morano Gelato’s gelato—a simple gelato that is unlike anything you have ever tasted. Maybe it is artfully spooned into a crispy cone, or stuffed in between two fluffy pieces of brioche, or even simply presented in a cup alongside a crunchy wafer cookie. But at the end of the night, it is a single flavor perfectly captured within a cold, creamy mixture that might even go beyond beautiful—it might be closer to heavenly.
Although Morano Gelato’s Chestnut Hill location only opened in 2015, it began in 2010 when Morgan Morano first began selling her homemade gelato at a Hanover, N.H. farmer’s market when she was just 25. But the story of Moran’s love affair with gelato began long before that.
After a childhood in the restaurant industry—Morano’s father was an entrepreneur who opened several restaurants—Morano spent a semester abroad that set her down the path toward what would become Morano Gelato.
Taking advice from her brother, Jordan, Morano decided to take a chance and spend her semester abroad in Florence. Once there, she not only fell in love with the local culture and cuisine, but also with a Florentine man—a relationship that helped pull her back to the city during the following years.
“[Florence is] still just this city that is overwhelmingly beautiful,” Morano said. “It was definitely unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I’d grown up in New York to a certain extent, and had seen a lot of food in New York City, but Florence was something else. It really awakened my senses, and I really started thinking about a food business for sure.”
After graduating from the University of Connecticut, Morano made a beeline for culinary school in New York City, where although she received a comprehensive culinary education, she maintained a focus on the pastry arts. This focus arose not only from her love of pastries, but also from her firsthand knowledge of how difficult restaurants are to manage. Given Morano’s love for food and deep commitment to using ingredients of the highest quality, she explained that she had no interest in entering a business where alcohol sales would serve as the largest source of profit.
As Morano traveled between Italy and New York, working in kitchens in order to save up money that she could use to fund her exploration of the culture she loved, she eventually made a discovery that changed everything while wandering through the streets she loved.
“I do think it was fortuitous—that I met Antonio Cafarelli, who owns this gelato store,” Morano said. “I was literally on my way to see an apartment, so I wasn’t even thinking about finding a job, and I saw this gelato store that was advertising Sicilian granita, and I’d never seen that before.”
Unable to resist the allure of an unknown dessert, Morano soon found herself inside the shop, and once she tasted the granita, all thoughts of the apartment tour were completely forgotten. The granita, a dessert Morano describes as a creamy and artisanal slushy, was so unlike anything she had previously tried that she could not help but return the next day.
It was then that Morano met the shop’s owner, Cafarelli, one of the few gelato chefs in Italy who still makes gelato through the traditional hot process—a pasteurization technique during which the gelato base is quickly heated before being cooled. After the two collaborated on a peanut butter flavor, Cafarelli offered Morano a job, which she quickly accepted. As she worked with Cafarelli, Morano not only learned the art of gelato-making, but also realized that it was an art form completely absent from the American culinary landscape—and so gelato became the business opportunity Morano had been searching for.
Once back in the United States, Morano began experimenting, balancing the skills gained in Italy with her knowledge of American ice cream in order to eventually create the perfect gelato, unlike any other in the world. The texture, which somehow remains light while still being dense and creamy, works in perfect combination with the flavors that Morano has carefully developed over the years with her meticulous palate.
Morano cites this palate, along with a healthy dose of creativity, as what separates “really good chefs from decent chefs.” Although Morano would by no means place herself in the former category at this stage, she has worked hard to develop, and protect, this palate that is essential to her success.
But a palate alone cannot create spectacular gelato, which is where Morano’s creativity and commitment to serving her customers with the freshest possible product come into play. Unlike almost any other ice cream—let alone gelato—shop in America, the gelato served in Morano Gelato is made fresh every single morning. For a shop serving a relatively small customer base, this approach is essentially unheard of and results in extremely high labor cost. But Morano didn’t want to offset these costs by selling a shockingly expensive product, so she worked hard to develop a system that allows her to sell competitively priced gelato—especially when it becomes clear from the first bite that the price does not reflect the high quality of the gelato.
The daily preparation of the gelato goes hand in hand with Morano’s determination to use only the highest quality, freshest ingredients. This means that the selection of flavors that customers can find in Morano Gelato—usually between 12 and 14 a day—depend not only on the mood of the chef and customer requests, but most importantly on the season.
In addition to its freshness, elements of the gelato’s preparation set it aside from many Americanized equivalents. Despite its creamy texture, many of Morano’s gelato flavors are actually water-based. This technique allows eaters to perceive the flavors more strongly, since the palate is coated with less fat than it would be if they were eating American ice cream. Morano also ensures that her gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than many other Americanized gelato stores, and pays careful attention to serving gelato traditionally—with gelato spatulas, never ice cream scoops.
And Morano’s careful attention to and love for her gelato is something that she has instilled in the close-knit staff of Morano Gelato’s. Sam Hicks, the manager, has worked with Morano since she opened her original storefront in Hanover, and his passion for gelato and the success of Morano Gelato is obvious.
“I’ve been excited [about working here] for the past five years,” Hicks said. “[And I am hoping to eventually see] Morano Gelato everywhere. East to West Coast, and eventually global … Franchising is picking up, definitely, and it’s really exciting to have been in Hanover in the beginning. [The Chestnut Hill] shop was a giant step.”
And it was a step met with inarguable success, as Morano Gelato begins franchising and opening three more shops along the East Coast within the coming year, with even more coming on the horizon. And although this expansion may seem slow for those familiar with franchising techniques, it is Morano’s intent to grow slowly and maintain quality throughout the brand and protecting her carefully developed recipes—even if that approach might counter conventional wisdom.
“One of the greatest things about this company is that I do things so counter to what everybody else tells me to do,” said Morano. “One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is that most people who change things, never go with common wisdom. Because that’s how things change, that’s how society changes, you have to go against conventional wisdom in order to change.”
As Morano Gelato continues going against conventional wisdom and changing with growth of the coming years—there are ideas of traveling Morano Gelato carts, and Morano’s own summer granitas in the works—we, the happy eaters of this spectacular gelato, will watch with excitement.
Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo/ Heights Editor