There’s a lot of ways to describe Giapo Grazioli.
Self-made ice cream entrepreneur and enthusiast. Theatrical performer. Passionate artist who loves his craft. A creative genius. Or mad as a hatter. Take your pick.
Whatever you think of him, you can’t deny his success.
On a typical Friday or Saturday night, patrons will queue down Queen St for up to 40 minutes just to get their hands on one of his creations.
They do this even in the depths of Auckland’s much-lamented winter months, when there’s no good reason to be standing in the cold, waiting for an ice cream.
Grazioli agrees that this is crazy behaviour, but says the logic applies to any season.
“Nobody needs an ice cream, essentially,” Grazioli says.
“You need water, you may need a bowl of rice, maybe some pasta, but you don’t need an ice cream. Should the doctor write you for an ice cream like a doctor did to me when I was three, then you can buy an ice cream anywhere.”
So how does this Italian-born ice cream chef get people lining for ice cream if he doesn’t think people actually need it?
“Because they really feel better with it than without it. It transcends ice cream,” he says.
The doors to Grazioli’s shop first opened seven years ago, but his ice cream has changed dramatically in that time.
He wanted ice cream to be taken seriously as a staple of haute cuisine, so his store became a research kitchen and restaurant.
What started as an ordinary ice cream became organic, then coated in artistic, edible toppings and most recently in 2014, 3D.
In that time, Grazioli himself also seems to have undergone a transformation.
In a video from 2010, he looks like a shy office worker, with glasses and a plain, pinstripe shirt.
Screengrab via stuff.co.nz
When I sit down with him, his clothes are as vivacious as his personality.
He’s wearing a multi-coloured hat and hoodie with yellow-framed glasses.
He speaks with absolute conviction in an impassioned Italian accent about the sweet, creamy stuff Kiwi kids grow up worshipping.
It seems that as Grazioli’s business has developed and become what he envisioned it to be, so has he.
He speaks of ice cream and yoghurt shops that moved in near by, hoping to get a scoop of his success.
Maybe they thought they could pinch a few customers away towards the back of the long queues. Not likely.
“They thought all people wanted was ice cream, but that was not the case. They wanted to come see me,” he says.
Clearly, Grazioli’s got something right when it comes to customer experience.
But despite the hoards of customers that line up outside his shop regularly, he doesn’t know what the secret is to tell other business owners.
He says this crucial bit of information is in the customer’s brain.
To make his point, he asks me what I think when I see ice cream. Happiness, I reply.
The “Giapo buono” (pictured) is a customer favourite
“I personally don’t see happiness in it,” he says.
“I am a very happy person that leads a beautiful life, but with ice cream I see decadence, deliciousness, I see ‘more-ish’, I see gourmet, I see cuisine.”
“A thousand people come to my place every day. If I ask all of them [this], a thousand different answers.”
He says other stores can’t replicate this, as it’s all about the customer’s experience.
“A company like mine doesn’t have any competitive advantages. It’s whatever people think it is. The moment you have a competitive advantage, it’s out there and anybody can copy it,” he says.
Secrets aside, the theatre of the experience is definitely a drawcard.
Grazioli engages customers with a decadent, grown-up take on the beloved childhood ice cream. It’s like a spiritual awakening, but with chocolate and sorbet.
Giapo ice cream flavours are inspired by local cuisine and vary from ‘Christchurch Hazelnut’, ‘New Zealand Lamington’ and ‘On my way to Kerikeri’, which has Shelly Beach avocado and Coromandel macadamia in it.
His passion for showcasing Kiwi flavours is intense, to the point where he took pistachios off the menu because they’re not grown in New Zealand.
He describes Giapo as a “love story” between his kitchen and New Zealand.
“People come to my place because they’re buying the New Zealand gastronomy,” he explains. “This is my job.”
He sources produce from around the country through a local co-operation deal with vendors, where they provide fruit in exchange for ice cream vouchers.
He’s also bravely gone where no ice cream maker has gone before with 3D ice creams.
His latest creations are bigger and bolder in both appearance and concept.
So far this year he’s created an Easter egg ice cream, a Katy Perry tribute ice cream, a Caitlyn Jenner ice cream and soon to be released, a 3D Jelly Tip.
Fonterra has asked him to honour the famous Kiwi ice block, which turns 64 in July.
It takes months of research to create a new ice cream, he says, as 3D ice creams are a design job that requires hours in front of a computer.
Inspiration for new ideas comes in all shapes and forms for him, from testing out a sensory dome in his store for a year to taking courses in art and music.
“It’s to help my brain because I think we work by association,” Grazioli says.
“Nothing is new, it’s all copied. Ice cream itself was invented by someone else.”
One of the crazier flavours on offer at Giapo in the past was chorizo. It didn’t feature chunks of sausage in it – it was pureed.
Despite the challenging concept of sausage ice cream, Grazioli says creating “wild” flavours is not the goal.
“It’s how much am I changing the people having the ice cream,” he says.
“It’ll be a first in the world for you. I changed you – I gave you a new idea of what ice cream can look like. That’s my gift to humanity.”
A year and a half ago, a big change was made in store.
The ice cream cabinets were shuttered away from customer’s peeping eyes, and shoppers had to order from a menu list instead.
He says this was done to make the final product a surprise.
When asked on Facebook by a customer why he did this, he said chefs in a restaurant don’t give a preview of what the dish is going to look like.
The final product looks nothing like the ice cream in the cabinet anyway, he says, as it’s covered in lavish toppings.
He admits this was tough at the beginning, but with no dent in his positive reviews online, most people get it.
The gallery to the right shows behind the scenes of Giapo’s kitchen, where all of the ice cream is made on site.
The next step for Giapo is what Grazioli calls ‘Giapo 2.0’ – a bigger venue.
After seven years on the upper Queen St strip, Grazioli is looking to move on.
He says he’s casting his eye around Britomart, downtown and Ponsonby.
A bigger space will change the ordering process so the store can deliver more outstanding things, he says.
The plan is for several counters or stations to be positioned around the store, serving multiple customers at once.
Staff will allow them to try out all the different flavours, and then pick one.
The order will then be taken out back to the chefs in the kitchen to create and then presented to the customer.
Make no mistake: looking for a new space doesn’t mean Grazioli is straying from his dream of creating perfect ice cream.
“I don’t want to make croissants or gateau, I’m the ice cream guy so why would I slip away from that?” Grazioli says.
“I want me and New Zealand to be known in the world for ice cream. If we keep going, 20 years from now, we might have a good chance.”
Seeing as Giapo was recently named the 10th best ice cream shop in the world by well-known travel authority Disspore, world domination is already underway.