Oysters and gelato may not seem like an obvious pairing. Unless, of course, you’re the clever couple behind Island Gelato, and opening an interconnected eatery at Auckland’s downtown wharf is a rare chance to flex your culinary creativity.
Because it was bound to happen. In the three years since Geoff Tippett and MasterChef New Zealand 2012 runner-up Ana Schwarz started crafting and selling gelato, from a small but perfectly formed container on Waiheke Island, the queues for their gourmet cones have become the stuff of legend. An expansion city-side was inevitable so when a space in the historic ferry building came up for lease, it seemed like the stars were aligned. The fact it was big enough to accommodate two enterprises side-by-side made it even more opportune to grow the business in a new and exciting direction.
“I’d had my eye on this space for years,” says Geoff, who jumped at the chance to realise his vision. “It’s a beautiful building right on the waterfront where we are able to showcase our incredible product. It has a nice link to our roots, our spiritual homeland.” For Ana, the location was a clincher. “Our concept is to keep it tight and efficient with a very small footprint. The ferry building being so close to Waiheke works.”
Lovers of good design – Ana’s parents are designers, while back in 1950’s Hawke’s Bay Geoff’s parents opened Intermezzo, the area’s first fresh coffee joint in, as fate would have it, another iconic building – they enlisted Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects to oversee the fit-out.
“Shucker Brothers was Nat’s concept but Island Gelato was a collaboration,” because, as Geoff explains, the brand story felt very personal. “It needed more of an urban lift from the beachy feel of Waiheke and to make it something really curious and interesting.” This idea of creating a magical customer experience beats at the heart of everything their business stands for and in the case of Island Gelato, Geoff’s passion for lifting the entire gelato scene in New Zealand verges, at times, on the theatrical.
“We feel gelato is the whole experience. It’s lovers and grandparents and children all coming together feeling ‘whoa – what a beautiful space’. As opposed to ice cream from the dairy, gelato is all curiosity and fascination. The experience of people entering and seeing 30 fresh flavours that have been made the day of, or the day before, all looking amazing – it is quite fantastical.”
This combination of design nous, foodie entrepreneurialism and laid-back salty folklore is continued next door at The Shucker Brothers. “I love the pass through from the gelato store into the oyster bar. One side is so grounded and real while the other is a wonderland,” says Geoff. He had an idea for a beach-side dock bar where an oyster ship would pull in and serve oysters straight from the boat or unload into baskets tied along the wharf railings.
While not entirely possible in a busy transport hub with ferries to-ing and fro-ing, the seaside eatery takes its cues from the history of the building, old fishermen and their stories, but as Geoff chuckles, “with a niggly little spin”. The Mediterranean tapas-style menu features a bounty of fresh seafood and a raw bar serving Te Matuku oysters along with oysters from all over the country, when currently in season.
“We want to start a conversation around what is essentially a shuck. That it’s all alive and fresh and shucked right in front of you. The menu, like the gelato, will change seasonally,” says Geoff, while Ana adds, “We want to serve people quickly. With lots of commuters going back and forward to Devonport and Waiheke we plan to change the menu so it’s always innovative and exciting.”
Innovation, it would seem, drives everything this talented pair create in both work-life and family existence. “I’m very restless so I can’t stick with the status quo,” Ana confirms. “After two or three weeks of the same flavours I start to fester. The ideas come from everywhere but I have to work with them and develop them and it’s quite a long process. I have to trust myself to get creative and go with it. About 90 per cent of the time I’m right but there have been a few flops,” she laughs.
Using organic milk and sugar in the gelato, they have teamed up with Jersey Girl Organics in Matamata and are constantly expanding their coconut, dairy-free and vegan options. “The team are everything,” says Ana, and by team she means, staff, family and green-fingered friends. Her kids pitch in to scoop and serve and locals help out dropping off fruit – black-boy peaches and island plums are abundant – which fits in with Ana’s ethos to “work with great people who do great things” so the product can be the best it can be.
“She’s amazingly brilliant with those flavours – I think it’s really special,” Geoff gushes, clearly Ana’s number one fan. “She’s the Queen of Cool. Her juiciness comes out in the food.”
“We’re a great little duo. It makes it fun for us,” says Ana, returning the favour. “It would seem like a job if I was doing it by myself but with Geoff it feels part of our life.”
So, can they describe themselves as a flavour? “Salty,” offers Geoff after a pause, while Ana doesn’t hesitate: “Peachy, aromatic, excitable and all pleasure”.
Island Gelato – Opening hours:
7 days a week
Shucker Brothers – Opening hours:
8am until late
7 days a week