Why start a gelato business in Toronto? We spoke with Parry Sohi, owner and operator of Nani’s Gelato, to find out more about his passion for Asian flavours and the Italian dessert.
From hard to soft-serve types, at first Sohi worked with ice cream, following his training at the University of Wisconsin. Later, he realized that it wasn’t as much fun as he thought. The flavour of ice cream just wasn’t as rich as he would have liked it. But gelato had less sugar and less fat, and more flavour. So he sought out more training in the United States and learned from an Italian chef who ran gelato shops in Italy before moving there. Gelato was the key to Sohi’s dreams. He learned that he could make any type of gelato and he could use fresh ingredients to do so.
Which flavours did he turn to first? The traditional Italian flavours. What did Italian customers think? They all applauded the original flavours that Nani’s Gelato made — some even claimed that they were very close to those in Italy and less commercialized. For example, pistacchio, stracciatella, limone, etc. But after a few weeks of working with these classic flavours, he felt that something more personal would satisfy his long-term goal of sharing Asian flavours with audiences.
Born into a food-loving household in Thunder Bay, Sohi enjoys celebrating his Sikh heritage. Asia, he believes, has the best sweets. He still remembers the flavours of Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India… while travelling across the continent, and all the fresh ingredients that he savoured! They were never overly sweet, Sohi shares. And so, a great idea was born in him: to infuse Asian flavour into gelato.
In 2019, he hired a food truck and introduced one new Indian-inspired flavour each week. It started out with Chai and Matcha, and a month later, there was widespread coverage about his food truck in Toronto. People loved it. Eventually 50% of his menu would be filled with flavours from diverse Asian cultures.
Some of the most popular flavours Sohi made included Indian spices, chai, and purple coconut rice. It’s really a treat, Sohi says, “to take any culture and make it into gelato”! When they sold the gelato in pints, they flew off the shelves. Working collaboratively with his co-chef Christie Lai, Sohi shares that there are many failures but the experimentation is well worth it. With new flavours each week, they are working on making dairy and dairy-free options to make gelato more accessible to everyone.
On May 29, 2020, Sohi and Lai found their first permanent location. It was a long journey before finding this place, but they are extremely happy with this area. The customer base is wide-ranging and there are young and old faces that frequent the shop. They wouldn’t want it any other way.
As COVID-19 took hold of most of 2020, they lost their food truck traffic and catering jobs. But they are ready for 2021 and hope that their business will be at full capacity. And they want to make sure that everyone in the Greater Toronto Area has the opportunity to enjoy their desserts!
Sohi and Lai’s gelato shop is truly a snapshot of the multicultural fabric of Canada where innovative entrepreneurs and flavours come into being.