BY OYAOL NGIRAIRIKL
KOROR, Palau — Nestled in the corner of a side street that intersects with Main Street Koror is the L’Amarena Gelato Shop which opened in Palau five years ago, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike.
With “the right partner,” business owner Stefano Tansella said the family might be persuaded to expand to Guam. “We need someone who is serious about business and investing in our product … not just talking about it.”
The shop name is familiar to many visitors from other islands who frequent Palau, and also offers an array of cookies and pastries. But it’s the gelato recipes that draws the crowd. Stefano Tansella runs the business and the front of the house.
The Tansella family first visited Palau in 2016 in search of an experience. And during that visit, they determined there was no place to get a good gelato, or Italian ice cream. Originally from Verona, Italy, the family decided to make the move to Palau and in September 2017, they opened a smaller gelataria, a few streets down from their current location, said Stefano Tansella, who runs the business side of the house
Palau drew the family, he said. “It was completely different and a totally new experience for all of us … and it was a way to introduce (our children) to a new world,” Tansella said.
The new experience is apparent in the gelato flavors on offer. The Tansellas believe “food is part of the culture,” and even an experience unto itself, he said. “Because we consider food not just as something to be eaten to survive,” he said. “We consider food to be something you experience. So our intention is to give an experience … something that will help give people a happy and relaxing moment of enjoyment of the flavors.”
He said they’ve taken Palau’s food offerings and melded it with what they brought from Europe to create many new and unique flavors with original recipes. Because of the freshness of the gelato, they create batches just big enough to sell in one day. The combination of a wide variety along with the Tansella’s commitment to fresh ingredients and final product means a customer can walk into the shop everyday for a week and find new and different flavors to enjoy.
“There’s some ingredients here that are not present in Europe,” he said. “We had to learn them … and now we make a sort of fusion. For example, we make a recipe with taro and ilaot – that’s the syrup from the coconut made in Sonsorol – but we add Italian walnuts.”
Sonsorol is an island state at the southern tip of the Palauan archipelago. It’s pristine land produces sweet ingredients that are free from pesticides and other chemicals that Stefano Tansella said they prefer to stay away from to ensure that their flavors aren’t tainted but rather the purest they can find.
“And so, it’s a fusion that’s very interesting because it opens up a new world of experiences,” he said. Dragon fruit is another fruit common in Palau that they’ve used to create a dairy-free sorbet.
“In Europe you don’t find dragon fruit,” he said. “In Europe you have different kinds of chocolate, but you have one kind of banana. Here you have six or seven different kinds of banana … so it’s a very creative process. With all the recipes we have more than 160 flavors because we’ve adjusted to the food, to the environment and even the climate.”
The environment and purity in their food are very important to the family-owned business. A sign posted on the wall of the gelateria notes the steps like using machines and equipment that are water and power efficient. Their cups and
other dining supplies are compostable or biodegradable, from their paper cups to wood spoons – both of which cost more than the plastic variety but are another expression of the L’Amarena ethos.
“We want you to experience and truly enjoy the food,” he said, which is why there is no wi-fi at the shop. He said he’s been approached by a few people who have expressed interest in partnering up but thus far, there’s not been any real commitment. “We’re ready,” said Stefano Tansella, noting that if the move to Palau and then the latest experience with COVID-19 taught them anything it’s to be willing to take risks.
“It’s been five years,” he said of the family’s adventure in Palau. “And in the middle, you have COVID-19.”
He is hoping for a return of visitors. Business before pre-COVID-19 was “good,” he said. Particularly the years right around the time the shop opened. But even before COVID-19 impacted tourist market areas, tourism number started dropping. Tourism peaked in Palau with over 160,000 tourists in 2015, according to Palau Visitors Authority data. When the Tansella’s first visited in 2016, the island nation welcomed nearly 140,000 visitors. In 2019, there were about 93,000 visitors who flew to Palau.
“We lost about 40,000 (tourists); that’s about 40%,” Tansella said. mbj