In what may be the biggest local business scoop (pun intended) of the year, a local couple is about to become the official owners of one of Invermere’s most iconic downtown business.
Crystal Leonard and Stuart Cope, already well-known in the Columbia Valley as the owners and operators of Leo Burrito in Radium Hot Springs, have bought Gerry’s Gelati Cafe and Stolen Church coffee (along with the un-missable giant red ice cream truck, and the mini golf course) from Invermere mayor and Gerrys Gelati business founder Gerry Taft, and are set to formally take over starting on January 1st.
It feels pretty amazing. Both of us are full of excitement, we are honoured to be the ones to kind of be picked to take it over, said Ms. Leonard.
Mr. Taft, who is also the NDP candidate for the Columbia River-Revelstoke riding in the upcoming 2017 provincial election scheduled for May, said he’s selling his business in order to focus on his campaign.
Ms. Leonard and Mr. Cope have been managing the Gerry’s Gelati outlet in Radium (which is adjoined to Leo Burrito) for the past two summers.
We’ve had a good working relationship and I was sort of joking, but I said, ‘Why don’t you two just buy me out completely’? And they were quite quiet, then asked a few questions, and just like that it was suddenly serious, said Mr. Taft.
If you’d have asked me, even six months ago, if we’d be owners of Gerry’s Gelati come the new year, I’d have said ‘No way, said Ms. Leonard. But we’ve had it in the back of our minds to do something bigger (than Leo Burrito). When a door opens and an opportunity comes that feels right, you go for it, and this opportunity just opened up.
Ms. Leonard said the couple, after three summers of running Leo Burrito and two summers operating the Radium Gerry’s Gelati outlet, have a good handle the demands and commitment that go into running a successful eatery, and that they like to create. So the thought of what we can do with all these gelatos and sorbets is appealing.
I started as a bartender, so mixing flavours has always been fun for me, said Mr. Cope.
The couple aren’t planning to make any drastic changes right off the bat, though, saying they recognize the success Mr. Taft has built up over more than a dozen years of running the gelato shop. They plan to keep all Mr. Taft’s flavours, his soups, coffee and other treats, but they did say they may make a few small additions although the small size of the kitchen in Gerry’s Gelati will not allow for any tacos or burritos to be made there, according Ms. Leonard.
People will just have to come in to see what new flavours there may be, said Ms. Leonard, although she did not entirely discount a tongue-in-cheek Pioneer question about the possibility of tapping the Mexican cooking skills the couple has honed at Leo Burrito to create Mexican-inspired gelatos. Indeed Mr. Cope quickly came up with Margherita and chili-chocolate as two such potential flavours.
The couple say they are looking forward to operating a year-round business, saying it will give a bit more consistency to their work schedules, which they described as currently being over-the-top busy all summer and then suddenly dropping off to nothing come the shoulder season.
It’s bittersweet, said Mr. Taft said about the sale. This business is like a first child. I knew it would be necessary if I were to the win the election, but it’s happening now, so that gives me more time to put into the campaign.
Prior to Mr. Taft setting up his gelato shop-cafe (renovations started in late 2003 and the business opened in May 2004), the space it now occupies did not house a commercial business.
I took a leap of faith on what had been storage space off of main street, with a business concept for Italian-style ice cream most people in Invermere had never heard of. A lot of people thought I was crazy, he said. And for the first few years I think it was the determination to prove people wrong, and being willing and able to workan insane amount of hours for no moneythat allowed the business to get established and be successful.
He thanked valley residents and visitors for their support and his staff for their hard work.
“It has been a lot of fun and there are so many great memories, he said, adding he’s confident that, in turning over the businesses to Ms. Leonard and Mr. Cope, the quality at Gerry’s Gelati will remain high.
Without having a business to run, Mr. Taft is also looking forward to being able to spend a bit more time with his family prior to ratcheting up to full campaign mode.
He added that he’ll be in the shop quite a bit during his last week of ownership (December 26th to 31st) and is hopeful he’ll see as many regular customers and past staff as possible.
“I am sure that I am going to miss the business, and the people, maybe Stu and Crystal will give me a par- time job and let me make some ‘cameo’ appearances in the future,” he said.
Mr. Taft started the Stolen Church coffee business in 2012.