When Carl Lombardo contemplated opening his first gelato shop at 734 E. Broadway Road, Mesa, everyone told him to stay away.
It was a high-crime area, he was told, a place that wasn’t safe.
But Lombardo and his family went ahead with the project, opening Lombardo’s Gelato shop in April near Broadway and Horne. Since then, his business has been robbed three times. But he looks on the bright side. The last attempt was unsuccessful, and the robber was captured.
“It was rough getting started, it was a difficult birth,” he said. “But I have no second thoughts.”
He said most of the neighbors in the largely Hispanic neighborhood have been helpful and friendly. And they have proven to have a taste for Italian ice cream.
His wife, BeBe, who also works at the store, agreed.
“I love it here,” she said. “I love the people, I love the kids. They’re wonderful.”
BeBe said she has been made to feel right at home. One grateful customer gave her a plate full of tamales. Other neighbors in the small shopping center often look in the door to make sure everything is all right, she said.
But she admitted the volume of sales hasn’t been as great as she had hoped. Her husband attributed that to the weak economy.
“But we’re going to see this (economy) through,” he said. “We’re not quitters.”
The Lombardos, both 70, and their four children came to the Valley from Cleveland six years ago with the intention of establishing a chain of gelato shops and dominating the Valley market. In Ohio, the family had been successful in a variety of businesses, including road construction, racetracks and commercial real estate development.
Carl’s grandfather came to Ohio from Sicily in 1898 and established a gelato business in the Italian section of Cleveland, selling the ice cream from a cart in the downtown streets. So the family has come full circle in returning to the gelato business.
In late 2005, they opened a kiosk at Arrowhead Mall in Glendale, which was followed by kiosks at Fiesta Mall in Mesa and Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix in 2006 and Arizona Mills mall in Tempe in 2007.
The location on Broadway Road in Mesa is their first full store. Lombardo said he chose it because he was confident he could cross ethnic lines with his products, which are based on a recipe straight from Italy.
“The major chains will not go into that neighborhood. We said there’s no reason not to. It (the store space) was available, the price was right, it’s a good pilot project,” he said.