Bontà Gelato – A Little Bit of Something Good

jeff in the gelato truck

Travel and inspiration go hand in hand, like a scoop of ice cream on a summer day. For college sweethearts-turned-entrepreneurs Jeff and Julie Labhart, a trip around the world sparked their mutual love for gelato – that has blossomed into a successful business venture.

“We left Bend [Oregon] in 2006, sold our house and car and backpacked around the world for a year,” said Jeff. “We knew that we wanted to start a business at some point and as we traveled, we discovered the best gelato in Australia, where a lot of Italian immigrants have settled. The closer we got to the end of our trip, the more we thought about opening an artisan ice cream shop in Bend.”

Five years later, the couple launched Bontà Gelato inspired by exciting and exotic flavors that they tasted during their trip but using natural and locally sourced ingredients. Julie came up with the name Bontà (pronounced with a long “O”), an Italian slang term that captures the essence of their sweet creations.

julie at the counter

“Bontà means a little bit of something good,” said Jeff. “We thought that fell in line with our philosophy – using good, wholesome ingredients.” Soon after their trip, the Labharts trained with master gelato makers in LA and New York. Their main takeaway from their intensive training on both coasts was that not all gelato is created equal.

“So many companies, even in Italy, had become more mass produced for tourists,” Jeff explained. “The Italian immigrants in Australia brought their old school ways of making gelato. We knew that we wanted to follow that model, using vat pasteurized milk and cream with no added powders and fillers.“

The couple began making their gelato at home, building out a kitchen space and installing 15 chest freezers in their garage. Facing challenges from lack of space to septic system issues early on, Bontà eventually moved into a 5,000 square foot industrial space in Bend, where it currently operates.

pints of ice cream from above

Making gelato is only the beginning at Bontà headquarters. They handcraft everything that goes into their product, using natural and locally sourced ingredients from the Oregon countryside. “We truly are artisan in the fact that we also make everything from scratch, like our dulce de leche, brownies, cookie dough and roasted strawberries,” said Jeff.

Their signature creations include the classic Italian flavor Stracciatella (sweet cream gelato folded with dark chocolate crackle from Theo, a Seattle-based chocolatier), to travel-driven fare such as Turkish Coffee and Tupelo Lavender & Honey. Bontà’s offerings also include seasonal flavors, dairy free sorbettos and vegan options.

3 ice cream scoopers with ice cream

Bontà Gelato has grown to not only serve its sweet scoops in Bend, but also at over 40 grocery stores, restaurants and retail locations throughout Oregon. They are branching out to the Northwest region with a Whole Foods partnership, but Jeff said that the company is not looking to go mainstream.

“We’ve had opportunities, but we have no aspirations to become a national brand,” he said. “That’s not why we got into the business. We want to stay true to our roots and keep making quality, artisan gelato. We don’t want to lose what sets us apart, which is to stay small.”

AUTHOR

Marc Cuenco

Marc Cuenco is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer with over 10 years of experience covering pop culture, food, fashion and lifestyle. A healthcare professional by day, Marc spends his free time taking photos of his puppy Chandler and exploring L.A.’s diverse food scene.

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