By Rachael Rees
Bend gelato makers Juli and Jeff Labhart plan to move their business from their home-based commercial kitchen into a new creamery, to increase production and sell their frozen treats to the public.
“Right now, we’re just limited by freezer space,” said Jeff Labhart, co-owner of Bontà Natural Artisan Gelato. “The big push was to get a bigger space, so we could have walk-ins and produce, still in an artisan fashion, but in much bigger quantities than we are now.”
The Bend couple began their gelato business in 2011 after traveling the world together and falling in love with the dessert. And for nearly three years they’ve been making it in a 400-square-foot commercial kitchen attached to their Bend home.
Their gelato can be found in about 40 grocery stores throughout the state, including Whole Foods, New Seasons Market, Roth’s Fresh Markets, Newport Avenue Market, Nature’s and Natural Grocers, as well as 20 restaurants.
Jeff Labhart said the new location will give the company more exposure and help the business ramp up production.
“We won’t have to turn people away, because it’s at our home,” he said. “It will allow us to really grow the wholesale business and meet demands.”
They currently make about 300-400 gallons a week, but the move into the nearly 2,300-square-foot space on Southeast Wilson Avenue will enable them to produce up to 800 gallons a day, Jeff Labhart said.
“We don’t want to become a national company, but we want to become a regional company,” he said, adding Salem-headquartered Spring Valley Dairy has started distributing Bontà.
He estimates the cost of the creamery will be around $200,000 and expects construction to begin when they take possession of the building next week. The couple plans to continue making small batches and test runs in their home commercial kitchen.
In addition to making gelato, he said, the new space will be a tasting room and retail outlet. Eventually, the couple hopes to open a separate retail location either downtown or on Bend’s west side.
“It will be a 400-square-foot room with a gelato case that holds anywhere from seven to 18 flavors … and then a freezer section where people can purchase pints direct and bigger quantities also,” he said.
Labhart said he hopes the extra space will also allow the couple to produce other dairy products in the future, such as yogurt, milk and ice cream bases for other companies.
“We want to be able to do our own pasteurization,” he said. “We’re going to be purchasing a big vat pasteurizer that will allow us to pasteurize our own milk and cream.”