About Tifa Chocolate & Gelato
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The Sweet Rewards of the Frozen Dessert Industry
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Mike Ashamalla, wife Denise, son Shawn Orr, and daughter Candace Roño knew they worked well together as a family and shared the same philosophy for bringing our work ethic together in business. We also knew we wanted to open a fun place for people to work and for customers to spend time. But we didn’t start out as a smoothly running frozen dessert shop.
Our story has a more humble beginning…
It All Started in 2007 With a Little Cart in
We’d been selling chocolate tasting kits online with, unfortunately, very little success. We needed to get in front of people. Then they’d be able to taste our passion—artisan chocolates from around the world.
The cart, just outside a Nordstrom, certainly got us in front of people. Hundreds of mall patrons walked by us every day. But we noticed something very upsetting.
They weren’t just walking by. They scurried. They skulked. They avoided eye contact. But why? After some careful assessment, we figured it out.
Many of the other cart operators at the mall were so aggressive, they actually scared mall patrons. No wonder people avoided us!
We needed a new plan.
Teaching People the Joys of Real Chocolate
After much searching, we found a solution—a defunct donut shop we could open in our area. Now, we could proudly display all our favorite artisan bars with room to spare for bonbons and our newfound passion… gelato!
The new store only had room for three tables, and the four of us together covered the hours of operation for the new Tifa Chocolate & Gelato seven days a week. We were still small, but we were growing. High school students discovered our shop, and had dubbed Denise “Mama Tifa,” because she was in her element.
She’d ask, “Do you know what chocolate tastes like?”
“Of course I do!” they’d answer, sure they really had tasted true chocolate. Mama Tifa knew a secret, though.
With a shake of her head, Mama Tifa would say, “Close your eyes,” and give them artisan chocolate bars or gelato flavors to sample. “Concentrate on the flavors as they unfold. This is what a real dessert tastes like. Not the chemicals you get from a squeeze bottle.”
The kids loved it, and Mama Tifa became a minor celebrity among them and their friends. She was the first person to introduce them to the nuanced flavors in quality desserts.
Soon, they were bringing in their parents and grandparents, and anyone else they could convince to come try our dessert shop.
A Growing Business
We weren’t an overnight success, but word was spreading.
Soon, we had a line out the door of our chocolate and frozen dessert shop beginning on Friday nights and continuing through the weekends.
Our customers—considering they were all friends and relatives of the high school students who flocked to Mama Tifa’s dessert lessons—knew each other.
Since there were only three tables, they happily spilled onto the sidewalk of our little shopping center and created their own mini block party. Little did we know we were about to get a lesson of our own.
With the arrival of an invitation to a family wedding, we needed to hire the first Tifa Chocolate & Gelato employee. A young man familiar with the local fast food industry fit our requirements, and became our first non-family member coworker. He was quickly trained, and the four of us went with confidence to our family wedding, leaving him to brave the Friday night Tifa crowd alone.
An hour into the wedding reception, we received a panicked call from the young man. He was doing an amazing job, but he was completely overwhelmed!
We congratulated our newly-married relatives and rushed back to the dessert shop, chagrined at our oversight and expecting complete chaos.
Instead, we found beauty and the lesson that would strengthen the Tifa Chocolate & Gelato philosophy.
What Would Mama Tifa Do?
When we arrived at the dessert shop, we never would have predicted what was happening.
The Lawrences, a local family who’d become regulars, had stepped behind the counter to help customers! Even their youngest, too short to scoop gelato, were in the back helping with the dishes!
The obvious lesson was we needed more employees.
The bigger takeaway, however, was the incredible value in forming these bonds with our customers.
The Lawrences took time out of their evening to help out our employee to ease his panic.
They were serving our other customers the flavors of our desserts they’d come to love, and were doing so because they cared about our dessert shop and its reputation.
They pitched in simply because they wanted to help us and our shop in a time of need.
The relationships we’ve built with our customers have been at the heart of the Tifa Chocolate & Gelato dessert shop business model ever since.
We carry that forward with our frozen dessert franchises, because that’s what Mama Tifa would do.
Growing the Gelato Frozen Dessert Menu
It’s true, we started the Tifa Chocolate & Gelato dessert shop with artisan chocolates, but gelato quickly captured our attention. The chocolates had educated our palates, so we knew the gelato we were getting from a vendor wasn’t adventurous—or fresh—enough for our exacting Mama Tifa standards. Shawn and Denise remained committed to the chocolates, while Mike and Candace learned to make our own gelato.
But it almost didn’t happen…
We were scheduled to fly to Long Island, NY to meet a prominent gelato chef flying in from Italy, but missed our flight due to an errant airport shuttle. Flying standby with the original airline was no use, so we managed to get to Boston from LAX through a different airline. Then, we rented a car and drove all night to get from Boston to Long Island. We were exhausted, but we made it!
And meeting that gelato chef changed the trajectory of Tifa Chocolate & Gelato—and Candace’s life—for the better.
Candace loved it so much, it spurred her to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, CA, where she became a full-fledged pastry and baking chef! To this day, Candace personally creates and crafts all of our recipes.
Tifa Chocolate & Gelato Dessert Shop Franchises Today
We’ve learned some hard lessons. Some have shown us the amazing depth of our relationships with our customers and each other. Many are unique to us, while others are pretty common to anyone starting a brand new business.
One of the things we’ve truly enjoyed about franchising our frozen dessert shop is that we get to pass on what we’ve learned to our franchisees so they can avoid some of the pitfalls and foibles we’ve endured.
The franchise model we’ve developed doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges, but the rewards should outweigh the challenges, and we’re all in it together. The Tifa Chocolate & Gelato commitment to engaging with our customers and creating a strong community bond has never been stronger. Our franchisees and employees are the embodiment of that commitment as we all work hard to be the best part of someone’s day!