Gelato Maker Finds a New Outlet at Penguin City Brewing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A young entrepreneur is expanding his gelato business into Youngstown.

Alex Papa, 21, of New Castle, Pa., today will begin sales at Penguin City Brewing, downtown, as part of a collaboration with the brewery-pub.

The Youngstown State University senior has owned a seasonal gelato shop at 318 Highland Ave., New Castle, since 2018. His products are also sold at Bakluva’s Bakery in New Wilmington, Pa., which formerly was also one of the gelaterias.

Papa has loved the frozen Italian dessert for years. His father ran a gelato shop in New Castle in the ’90s. Papa has also been to Italy a few times, where he sampled gelato in the land of its origin and decided he had to bring it back to his hometown.

While similar to high-end ice cream, gelato has some key differences.

“It’s made in smaller batches and is much more dense and flavorful,” Papa said, explaining that it does not have as much air in it as ice cream.

“It comes in more natural flavors and uses fresh ingredients,” he continued. “It also goes bad faster, so you have to make it more often. And it makes you full faster, so it comes in smaller portions.”

Gelato also is made with fewer preservatives and “a lot less butter fat,” Papa said, which means it’s lower in calories than ice cream.

At his Papa Gelateria shop in New Castle, customers can select from dozens of flavors, such as tiramisu, pistachio, Belgian chocolate, banana dulce de leche, raspberry sorbetto (dairy free), mint chunk, strawberry swirl, salty caramel truffle and vanilla bean.

Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki, co-owner of Penguin City, met Papa in November when his fraternity at Youngstown State University approached her about collaborating on an event. She was quickly sold on the idea to offer his gelato at the brewery.

It was right around the time it became clear that Cockeye Barbecue and Creamery of Warren, which makes ice cream, would not open a branch in the brewery, as originally planned.

Alex Papa’s gelato comes in multiple flavors, including caramel truffle.

Lyras-Bernacki jumped at the opportunity to find a new source of something sweet.

“I still wanted the ice cream element, and I think it would go well here,” she said. “A lot of families with kids come here.”

She also liked the idea of giving Papa a chance to expand his business. “I love giving entrepreneurs opportunities here,” she said.

The frozen treat will be integrated into Penguin City’s own products.

“We’re going to collaborate on beer floats,” Lyras-Bernacki said. “We’ve been looking up recipes for beer floats, which are actually a popular thing in some areas, using pastry stouts and ice cream.”

There could also be gelato and beer pairings, she said, and nonalcoholic desserts using gelato.

For now, Papa’s gelato will be kept in a freezer behind the bar, with the bartenders scooping it out for customers.

“If this goes well, then the talk is that we would put in a permanent kiosk or stand that he would run,” Lyras-Bernacki said. “This is a test run.”

Papa, who is majoring in history and political science, will graduate this spring from YSU and will return in the fall for his master’s degree in business administration.

He does not currently have a production facility to make his gelato; that is done under a contractual arrangement with several suppliers in Pittsburgh. But he intends to change that in the near future.

“The plan is to develop a presence in Youngstown at Penguin City and then open a small-scale production facility,” Papa said.

He has already learned how to make gelato by attending training classes at PreGel America in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Pictured at top: Alex Papa, center, will begin sales of his gelato at Penguin City Brewing this week. He is flanked by Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki and Richard Bernacki, owners of the brewery.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.