Generations of Gelato
Celebrating Canada's 150th Birthday with heartwarming stories from our family of suppliers who chose to make Canada home.
By Marina Michaelides
At 87, Salvatore Ursino still comes in twice a week to stick labels on the made-in-Edmonton Italian gelato tubs at Pinocchio Ice Cream, the company he founded 35 years ago.
Sal semi-retired only five years ago at 82, ten years after handing over to son Tom, whose been working there ‘Ever since I can remember. That was the only way, I got to see my parents, they were always working!”
For both men, “It’s not a job, it’s a passion.” Ask Sal what he’s most proud of about Tom and they both tear up, looking at each other tenderly. “Respect,” Sal finally manages to say out loud, “I always dreamed he’d take over. So I had to teach him to listen. And learn.”
Sal was born in Fiume, near Trieste, but when it was absorbed into the newly created former Yugoslavia in 1945 after the Second World War, his whole family moved to Sicily.
With no job and little prospects, Sal, twenty, set sail alone for Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1951
|Salvatore labels ice cream pots. Two days a week. He's 87.|
The promise of a job building a military base in
On the move again, he landed a job making steel bedsprings for Canadian Bedding (now Sealy) in Edmonton for 75c an hour. He saved everything he could and four years later paid the passage for his two sisters and parents to come over from Italy. At work, Sal’s skills with his hands quickly earned him a rise through the ranks, eventually landing the company a contract for fifty thousand top quality office chairs. “We made them so well,” he smiles proudly, “I still see them around the city, half a century later!”
Young Salvatore at school in Italy, fifth from the left.
Knowing his limited written English meant a management position at the bedding company wasn’t going to happen, Sal left his job of seventeen years to set up a gelato store with Concetta and her brother Berto Bertuccio. Who would do that in 1981, in the middle of a recession, with interest rates on business loans at 15-20% in a city where people didn’t even know what gelato was? “You gotta be a little crazy in business, to take the risks,” Sal smiles.
Forever on a quest for quality, they sent Berto to a gelato trade fair in Rimini, Italy. He came back with a winning recipe from the world-
There were queues outside the door from day one when the Pinocchio gelato
|Salvatore & Berto outside Mama Teresa restaurant where they started making gelato 1982|
Talk about ahead of its time! Maybe it was the 32
|Newspaper clippings circa 1987.||Salvatore & Concetta Ursino 1987||Salvatore filling litre tubs 1985|
Soon they were all working seventeen hours a day. By 1982 Pinocchio was selling nineteen thousand 95c
|Son Tom grew up amongst the
Tom & Salvatore Ursino winning
Alberta's Best Ice Cream award, 1990
Great timing, because Italian Centre Shop founder Frank Spinelli asked Sal to make
Back to gelato. New machinery from Italy and the move to the current factory at 12814 163 St. soon meant a boost in production from one 160
The commitment to local, like the original gelato recipe, has not changed. Natural ingredients only will do; cream, sugar (much, much lower than most brands), skimmed milk powder, egg yolks (that’s what makes it gelato, not
|Tom & 77 year old Salvatore circa 2008|
What also sets Pinocchio gelato above the rest is a very low air content–at about only 30%, compared to many as high as 130% air: actual ingredients. Pinocchio guarantees a thick, velvety, creamy lick every time.
Tom’s got big plans to make his dad even more proud and continue the family legacy. The re-designed packaging has been a great success. He’s looking around for the perfect individual sized gelato tub, which will open up many new markets. “A big part of my job is also predicting taste trends, which change every year,” Tom explains. “That’s why I just came back from the trade fair in Rimini, the same one my uncle went to when he brought back our original gelato recipe, more than thirty years ago.”
“My dad taught me to takes risks,” smiles Tom, “So within a year, I’m mortgaging the house to pay for the new packaging and machinery that’ll boost capacity seven and a half times the volume we do now.”
That’s about ten thousand
“He’ll do it,” Sal pronounces, looking up from sticking labels on the