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Bitch at Us: Robb Duncan of Dolcezza Gelato

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When Robb Duncan met his wife and business partner in Dolcezza, Violeta Edelman, sailing down the Amazon, little did he know that two love stories were unfolding.  As one romance bloomed in South America, another emerged from a sampling of Argentina’s tradition of artisan gelato and a determination to bring it to the United States.  After learning the delicate process of crafting gelati and sorbetti in Buenos Aires, the husband and wife team found a niche in DC’s budding local food culture, building a business on the foundation of cultivating close relationships with local farmers to create delicious and distinctive gelatos and sorbets.  The two have formed lasting bonds with the area’s local farmers and artisans, incorporating locally grown and seasonal fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese and fresh herbs into their product.

Dolcezza’s philosophy is simple: Be curious. Be spontaneous. Play with your food. Support local farmers and make exquisite gelato.  Dolcezza makes gelato with a conscience, using only the best available ingredients grown by local farmer friends.  By creating an artisanal product, Dolcezza has learned to measure time with the seasons and to work closely with local farmers.

Dolcezza is a family-run business. Tell us a little bit about the people behind Dolcezza?

The family involved are Violeta (my wife), Isabel (mother-in-law), Oscar (father-in-law), Paloma (sister-in-law), Alex (brother-in-law), Lucia (sister-in-law), and Eric (my brother). We’re kind of like that crazy Italian family- something out of a Federico Fellini movie. We’re always shouting our opinions at each other, whether anyone asks for them or not.

Is it hard working with your wife and in-laws?

It’s amazing! It’s both glorious & gut wrenching. I can’t imagine not building this project together with my lovely companion, Violeta.

How’s your Spanish?

I’m fluent. I lived in Buenos Aires for a year in 2000, so I had to defend myself.

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The factory has really helped streamline operations and reduce costs. Tell us a bit more about your inspiration for the factory.

It was always about having a space that’s beautiful to work in and being able to do everything we want to do, all in one place. It houses our gelato production and education, coffee training and education, office space, meeting space, event space, dinner space, etc.

Union Market is a really amazing, up-and-coming location. Tell us a bit more about how you’re working with other vendors and local businesses at the Market.

We are friends with a most of the folks in Union Market: Nate [Anda] from Red Apron, Erik [Bruner-Yang] from Toki, Travis [Croxton] from Rappahannock, [John] Mooney from Bidwell, Amanda [McClements] from Salt & Sundry, Ris [LaCoste], Peregrine, Trickling Springs…pretty much the whole lot. We are doing events with them, dinners together, and making gelato for them and their restaurants. The community is super tight and full of passionate, caring folks.

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The factory also has a coffee lab. Where do you source your coffee from? What makes your coffee program unique?

All of our coffee comes from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. We have partnered with them in creating our coffee lab and building our in-house coffee education and training program. Their coffee and coffee knowledge is stellar and deep, respectively, and every person we have met from them are truly passionate and exceptional individuals.

Dolcezza works to ensure its ingredients are all-natural and local, whenever possible. Tell us a bit more about the farmers you source your ingredients?

Our farmers’ include Zach Lester from Tree and Leaf Farm; Casey and Stacey from Potomac Vegetable Farms; Melanie and Mark from Keswick Creamery; Greg, Chip and Tom from Perrydell Dairy Farm; Mark Toigo from Toigo Orchards; and Anne and Chuck Geyer from Agriberry. We started all this by selling in the local farmers’ markets 10 years ago and made the connections there. It is so important to use the best and freshest ingredients you can find and there is no matching the quality of goods from our local area farmers’ markets. The added benefit to using all these great ingredients is getting to know the characters behind them. The men and women who till the land and raise the animals are some amazing, brilliant people, and our lives are so much richer for knowing them.

Dolcezza has five shops, three markets, and a factory. How have you managed to make gelato profitable and expand and grow the business so quickly?

Yeah, we are constantly working on that. It is really tough and expensive to make a high quality product using such high quality, expensive ingredients. We are always pushing it to become more efficient and organized as we go forward, which just make our lives a bit easier to run the whole operation.

You’ve told us your daughters’ favorite flavors. What’s your favorite gelato flavor?

I’ll just have to rattle on this one, because it changes all the time. We spin upwards of 300 flavors in a year, but some of my favorites include Blackberries & Cream, Lemon Opal Basil, Cucumber-Mint-Vodka, Strawberry Tarragon, Valrhona Dark Chocolate, Sicilian Blood Orange, Georgia Butter Pecan, Thai Coconut Milk, and on, and on, and on…

Any plans to expand beyond gelato? No, we like to focus and keep it simple. It’s really tough to do one thing consistently and that much harder to do two things consistently, so we just like to focus on nailing our gelato and coffee on a daily basis.

Do you have a favorite brunch spot in DC? What about a favorite restaurant?

I love Red Hen. Michael [Friedman] rocks it over there!

Mimosas or Bloody Marys?

I’m a cannabis man, myself.

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