By Jeremy Miles
When Luigi Bray was a little boy in sunbaked Southern Italy his mother ran an ice-cream parlour. It’s eye-popping ices with tastebud-tickling flavours was the talk of the ancient town of Alezio.
More than 30 years later Luigi - Giggi to his many friends - has brought his mother’s secret recipes to Dorset and is offering an authentic taste of real traditional Italian ice-cream at his own parlour in Bournemouth.
Taking ice-cream to the seaside might sound like a distinctly coals to Newcastle style maneuver, but Luigi is adamant that what he offers is so far removed from the average ‘99 with a flake’ experience that there can be no comparison.
He first came to Bournemouth five years ago when he accompanied a friend to a funeral in the town. It was a hot summer’s day and looking around for an ice-cream afterwards Luigi realised that there was little to satisfy his rather particular Italian palate.
More to the point he saw a business opportunity. “There seemed to be no proper ice cream at all in Bournemouth. In a seaside town that seemed unbelievable, I just thought ‘Wow this is the place to continue my family business.’ I come from an ice-cream family. Until I was nine or ten I grew up surrounded by ice-cream. It’s important to me.”
Luigi was living in London at the time and working as a trainer for Pizza Hut. He didn’t waste time. He returned home, asked his mother for her old recipes and enrolled in the famous Carpigiani ice cream university in Bologna.
“I didn’t need to learn to make ice-cream. I already knew that but It was a way of giving myself a refresher course,” he says.
A year later he was back in Bournemouth and with help from his younger brother Andrea set up the Giggi Gelateria in the Burlington Arcade off Bournemouth’s main Old Christchurch Road shopping street.
“At first it wasn’t easy. We had to let people know we were there and get them to taste our ice-cream but once we got them through the door, word of mouth did the rest.”
He says he loves living and working in Bournemouth. “I really believe it is one of the best towns to live in. It has beautiful beaches, friendly people, just about everything.”
Luigi says he’s fallen in love with Dorset too. “I had never been to the county before the first day I came to Bournemouth but I spend my days off exploring the coast and country. It’s fantastic.”
He is well aware of the irony that it was a funeral that brought him to the place that would change the course of his life. “It is sad that someone died. Someone I didn’t even know. A friend of a friend. But I really believe it was my destiny to find this place.”
The success of the business has been remarkable. Last year The Times named it as one of the top ice-cream parlours in Britain and even though Andrea has moved on to a career in Information Technology, Luigi now has three staff - Luca, Dalila and Filippo (all Italians) - and a growing number of both regular and passing customers.
“I get people returning again and again. Some people think it’s too fattening to eat ice-cream on a regular basis but I tell them this is very good quality and surprisingly low in fat.”
I’m not entirely sure what a dietician would say about that particular statement but it is clear that Luigi’s customers enjoy his front of house banter almost as much as the ice-creams themselves.
As we chatted in front of a mouth-watering display - strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, mint-crisp, pistachio, mango, a Giggi special and many, many more - passers by waved to this cheery Italian, customers slapped him on the back and shook him by the hand. One elderly lady having finished her coffee and ice-cream came up and planted a big kiss on his cheek. “He is absolutely first class,” she announced. Luigi is already supplying a number of coffee shops and restaurants and says he is now planning to find some wholesale outlets.
Upstairs he shows us how the ice-cream is made in five-litre batches, blended in a huge ice-cream maker before being chilled to minus 25 degrees in a blast-freezer. He carefully stirred the ingredients for a big container of pistachio, using a massive industrial sized electric hand-whisk to amalgamate painstakingly measured quantities of cream, milk, sugar, a special pre-gel additive and a generous 350 gramme slug of pure concentrate made from “the best pistachios in Sicily”.
At £240 for a six kilo can this stuff does not come cheap but Luigi says he insists on the finest ingredients. “Of course if you run a business you have to make a profit but for me this is about so much more than money. I love doing it. It is my life.”
For all his success Luigi’s greatest moment of pride came two years ago when his then 70-year-old mother Concetta made her first ever trip outside Italy to visit him in Bournemouth.
“She was so impressed. This parlour is very modern and quite different from her simple and traditional family business but it owes everything to what I learned from her while I was growing up in Alezo. She was so proud of what I had achieved. It was wonderful”
*You can find the Giggi Galeteria at 10 Burlington Arcade Bournemouth BH1 2HZ
Tel: 07940 054981 or go to www.giggigelateria.co.uk.