The Age of Enlightenment arrived in Kenwood in 1986. That’s when the Pellizzer brothers opened their haute scoop shop, Sebastian Joe’s. Before that, we Goths were content to eat ice cream from square supermarket cartons.
It all started when a “moment of truth” hit the brothers while visiting Boston’s Little Italy. They carried the message home and started proselytizing with the handmade stuff of their Italian heritage, making the world of frozen desserts a far, far better place.
Their on-the-job training had begun in brother Tim’s kitchen, utilizing books from the public library to learn the trade. Brother Mike quit his job as bartender at The Loon to devote himself to marketing, while brother Todd also stepped up to help man the counter.
They’d named the place Sebastian Joe’s in honor of their grandfather, a marble worker from Italy. (“Why do you want to do ice cream?” the 95-year-old skeptic wondered, until they took him to see his name in neon. “Nice counters,” he allowed.)
In 1992, the brothers made their first pilgrimage to Italy to attend a trade show. They came away with new sources for the extracts and syrups that account for their product’s uniquely intense flavors. But to serve their American audience, they forewent authentic gelato (which is almost diet food, by comparison) in favor of the rich cream we love on our palates. The finished product, with 15 percent butterfat, is either divine or a death wish, depending on your doctor’s orders.
Today, the number of rotating flavors has escalated to well over 125, but Pavarotti is right there on top (along with raspberry chocolate chip and Oreo). This creation, named for the sweetest tenor voice they’d ever heard, is a sinful mix of caramel, banana and chocolate chips. Summer, however, brings with it more fruit sorbets.
Any bombs? “One,” Mike admits. “Cheesy date. We loved the title. But the combination of cream cheese and dates never went over real well.”
Understandable. That’s because folks were fixating on the garlic flavor, right? “It has a following,” Mike says. “A guy calls every now and then wanting another two-and-a-half-gallon tub.”
Restaurants — upwards of 30 of them — request custom flavors, too. You’ll find them on the dessert lists at Murray’s, Kincaid’s, Palomino, Hoyt’s, the Loon and many Asian cafés, which feature the green tea, coconut, mandarin orange and mango-passion fruit renditions.
Mike manages production, while Todd oversees both retail stores, after a second was added in Linden Hills. The Uptown shop is populated with the young and hip of Kenwood, who’ve adopted it as their laptop office. The Linden Hills location draws mostly young families. “We should have valet parking for the strollers,” Mike jokes.
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