When I first met James Coleridge back in 2010, the first location Bella Gelateria had just opened in Coal Harbour. Nestled in the corner of the new Fairmont Pacific Rim building, the tiny street-front shop was outfitted with some rather revolutionary equipment and ideas for Vancouver. Coleridge, who named the shop after the acclamation he called out to his now-ex-wife as they walked down an Italian street following their wedding, was obviously not interested in the easy path. Instead of modern mixers with sensors and timers, he instead invested in an Effe – a manual gelato machine that was patented almost a century ago. His vertical batch freezer created a creamier, denser texture and his closed-container counter system preserved the daily-made flavours from oxidization.
Equally attentive to ingredients, Coleridge worked only with organic milk and other high-quality items, such as imported Italian lemons, organic hazelnuts, aged Scotch, local sake from Granville Island, and more. “I don’t want to make crap,” he said to me then. “It’s all about creating a truly authentic, old-world gelato.”
To learn how to do that, Coleridge originally left to study in Italy at the Italian Culinary Institute and then at the Gelato University in Bologna (yes, there really is a university dedicated to gelato in Italy). After opening Bella, he went on to win both the judges’ and people’s choice at the World Cup of Gelato in 2012, beating out the very strong Italian competition. His creativity can be tasted in flavours like the Akhbar Mashti, a Persian ode of saffron, pistachios and rosewater, or the deceptively simple chocolate sorbetto, which is so dark and rich that it took a lot of convincing before I was ready to believe it was a truly dairy-free. Bella was the first artisan gelato shop to appear in Vancouver, and led the way long ahead of other frozen cream purveyors.
Unfortunately, the dream has now taken a turn for the worse. Bella Gelateria, currently with two locations and a third scheduled to open soon in the Olympic Village, was suddenly listed for sale by Coleridge’s ex-wife, who is director of the company. Not only are the businesses, with all equipment, social media, and inventory, for sale, but also the recipes that Coleridge so painstakingly developed. While the full details of the financial troubles that led to the sale listing are not known (CBC reports that the $3 million-a-year business has ongoing bankruptcy protection proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court), it seems that passion often comes at a price and Coledrige is now being forced out of the company, despite being a 50 per cent shareholder. What this means for the future of the business, and for Coleridge, has yet to be seen, but it’s sad news for the loyal customers that lined up daily for a taste of the Old World.