Young and Hungry

The Sweetness of Cucumber Mint Vodka Success: Dolcezza’s Gelato Maestro Robb Duncan

Robb Duncan (left) at work in his gelato lab

Robb Duncan isn’t quite sure how the producers of daytime talk show The View heard about his D.C. gelato shop, Dolcezza. But he's glad they did. On July 15, Duncan, along with his wife and business partner, Violeta Edelman, were featured on-camera in a segment exploring the country's best ice creams.

Talk about a ringing endorsement. More ear-ringing, really. Their frosty flavors elicited squeals of delight from the show's co-host Sherri Shepherd. (See the video here.) “We had a grand time,” says Duncan, 39, via email.

The couple's tale of desire and dessert dates back more than a decade.

Duncan first met Edelman while both were attending a conference on Amazonian Shamanism in Brazil. The pair traveled the country for three months, but soon went to Argentina to see Edelman’s homeland. Duncan then sold all of his stuff, packed up the remains and moved to Buenos Aires to be with Edelman. It was there he discovered gelato.

When a financial crisis hit Argentina in 2001, the pair split for the States, first arriving in Richmond, then D.C. Duncan figured that because he loved gelato so much, he should probably get into the business of selling it. With some financial help from family members, Duncan rented a space in Georgetown, imported the equipment from South America and spent seven months opening up shop—all without any formal training on how to make the stuff. Luckily, he's a quick learner.

Dolcezza Georgetown opened in 2004 with a basement kitchen, top-floor offices and ground-level retail shop. The gelateria distinguished itself with a rotating roster of quirky flavors: cucumber tarragon gin, black sesame and pineapple mint, to name a few. The proprietor himself prefers the Sicilian blood orange and lemon with opal basil.

Some of the weirder flavors he's attempted include parmesan and foie gras, both as favors for restaurants. He confesses that he found those particular varieties were a little gross. Generally, he doesn't sell a flavor unless he likes it. "I guess I have good taste," he laughs.

Dolcezza is now a major player on the D.C. dessert scene, with three retail locations (the Bethesda space opened in 2008; Dupont in 2010) and a presence at six city farmers’ markets and more than 90 restaurants. The couple also eventually purchased the Georgetown building where they first opened and still operate.

Duncan acknowledges that his treats are not cheap. He prefers to buy his ingredients directly from farmers (“we wouldn’t do it any other way,” he says) and that tends to drive up the cost. But he feels his customer base will pay for artisanal quality.

The seasonal rotation of products also drives his flavor experimentation.

How else do you explain the tantalizing combination of lemon ricotta cardamom?

Photo by Joshua Cogan

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