The Cherlato truck is out and about in LA, serving up the creative concoctions of Cher and Gianpaolo "Giapo" Grazioli.
We caught up with Giapo to learn about the story behind the new gelato company, and how he reacted when Cher called him on the phone five years ago and hinted at starting a gelato brand together. (Hint: he didn't believe it was her.)
This interview has been edited for style and clarity.
Why don't we start off by hearing about you. How would you describe yourself to someone who you're meeting for the first time in terms of who you are and what you do?
My name is Gianpaolo Grazioli. They know me for Giapo. I am an artist, and I work with ice cream. So, put the two together and this is who I am.
It's something that my wife and I started 16, 17 years ago now. We have a store in New Zealand. That's where Cher came for the first time five years ago — she happened to see what we were doing, and here we are today.
How did you meet Cher, and how did this project come to be?
Cher was touring and she was in New Zealand, and somehow she found herself in our shop. Somebody must have recommended it. But I do know that wherever she goes, she wants to know who makes the best ice cream or gelato. So, she happened to be in our place.
The day after, she came again — not even 24 hours she was back in. That's unusual for a celebrity of that caliber, she had found something that was interesting for her. And, of course, she disappeared, like all the celebrities. You see them, but then they go back to their own life and to their own country. But after a little while: a phone call, and it was Cher from LA. That's how the story started, really.
What's your reaction when Cher calls you on the phone and says that she wants to partner for a gelato brand?
It took me 20 minutes to actually believe it was her. It was me and my wife, I was calling my wife, and I was saying, "Somebody is taking a piss saying it's Cher," and Cher on the other side was like, "No, it's real. I'm Cher from LA!"
Friends knew that Cher had been to Giapo recently, to our store. I thought, somebody's really trying to joke with me. And I said, "Come on, who is this?" And on the other side: "It's me!"
I said, "Alright, I believe you now."
How did that phone conversation go? Did she say that she wanted to immediately partner for a gelato brand — what work goes into that five year process?
I think like all the love stories, it all started like, "We really love what you're doing." She was very appreciative of the work. She hinted at the idea of one day having something like that in Los Angeles, and I said, "That would be extremely cool. Let's talk more about it." Now hundreds of phone calls later, several trips, and five years, here we are.
Tell me about the gelato flavors, what does the creative process look like for creating and naming a new gelato? Because I've seen your work and everything you do really is a work of art in a way.
You need to have a process ... creativity is not necessarily linked to talent. If you have a process, anyone can really be creative. Whether the thing works or not, that's something else, but putting things together, everyone can do it. We have a process about it: to put ingredients together, flavors together, smells together, ideas together, and see if they work or not. The problem is that most of the time, they don't. Most of the time, the rejection from people is quite interesting.
With Cher, we shared the process with her, and being the artist that she is, she embraced it. She became straightaway part of the whole creative thinking behind making a new flavor. You need to understand that she's an ice cream expert. She's not like your average Joe. When you go to her, she knows who makes the best ice cream or which flavor, anywhere. If you're going to a special city, whether it's Copenhagen or Tokyo, she's going to send you to the best ice cream shop. She knows. She has been everywhere. She's into it. She's really an expert. She loves ice cream. It's really part of her, not just her diet, it's part of her lifestyle or who she is. If you look online, you'll find thousands of photos of her holding ice creams.
She doesn't drink, she doesn't have a vice, no drugs: she likes ice cream. It her thing, and so she's an expert. There are beer experts, there are people that are experts on art and pictures. Of course, she's a huge expert on music, but she's an expert on ice cream.
The conversation when it came down to creating new things was pretty natural. She's quite conservative, I can tell you that, in regards to creating new flavors, so going off a little bit with things like avocado toast ice cream, like I've been able to put ... she wasn't too convinced until she tasted it, of course. That's the person that we have on our team. She's a force of nature when it comes to ice cream. She understands it more than everyone. She's really an expert, and I can tell you.
It seems like she brought a lot of passion to the project.
She did, and I did. We both did. This is not my project and I'm sure she says it's not her own project. We are complementing each other in a special way, each of us with our own skill set.
Is there a particular flavor that you recommend people try?
I can tell you that by far, she said that the chocolate that we currently have is the type of chocolate she would love to have every day, every minute, at every point in life, forever. It's that type of thing, and I agree: our chocolate is special.
So if you want to know what she likes, her super favorite, and she says, "Giapo, I put this above everyone and everything, anywhere," and it's the dark chocolate — it's on the menu. We call it Chocolate XO Cher!
The one that I like the most is probably the avocado on toast because of what it expresses for LA. LA loves avocado. Here we love anything with avocado toast. It's our breakfast, it can be our lunch. People have avocado multiple times a day. For me, I wanted to resonate with the city ... finding something that people use every day, but not quite in ice cream. I think it's a great flavor.
I have to hear more about this gold cone that I've seen pictures of.
The gold cone, it's a fabulous thing that Cher really wanted. It's pretty simple. Essentially it's our waffle cone and we dip it in chocolate, we let the chocolate set and we dust it, as any makeup artist uses the makeup to prime the face of the client. We do exactly the same thing with this cone. It's done with a brush in some gold metallic powder that is all dusted around. It's a labor of love, but people seem to like it.
Something else that caught my eye was a cone that seemed to have something like a cloud on top of it.
That one is another one that is special. It's kefir with cardamom. Kefir is a yogurt as you know, and cardamom is a spice, which is pretty popular in Mexico, Guatemala, Central America. It grows a lot there. It's kind of citrusy — it resonates well with the yogurt-sour type of taste. So, we put the kefir and this cardamom and it actually tastes fantastic. The thing that you see on top, the cloud, is cotton candy.
Cotton candy is a very atypical thing that goes on ice cream because when you have ice cream with cotton candy, then the ice cream tastes like nothing. What people don't understand is that you can put cotton candy on everything, but in reality, you're spoiling the taste of what you have underneath. Because nothing will ever be sweeter than sugar. But, with this ice cream — because it's sour and it's not sweet, because it's a kefir, it's an extremely sour type of thing — it really cuts well with the sugar that we have on top.
The name Cherlato — was that your idea or Cher's?
I'm going with Cher.
It's 100% her. And honestly, in the beginning I was like, "What?" And she was so adamant of it. In the beginning I said, "Wow, this is a mouthful. It's a lot." And like me, all the people around me were like, "Wow." But then it grew on me. And look now, everybody seems to understand it. It's pretty clear.
How have you been feeling about the launch of the brand now that it's available to the public?
Fantastic. Look, it's a huge success. We're selling out, people are coming in big numbers — way more than what we expected. Even though we're telling people and our marketing is still kind of subtle and very low-key ... I really didn't want to be overwhelmed, because the system is still finding its place. We have all new people on board ... and everyone is ready to judge anyway. They don't want to know how old you are and how long you've been in business and things like that. So, we've been very careful. To be honest, I'm positively surprised. The amount of people that are coming, and now the word is spreading — it's pretty cool.
How would you describe Cher's reaction? Have you talked to her about it?
Yeah, I talk to her every day or as much as I can. She's surprised and overwhelmed, and also, I will say humbled. Yeah, that's the right word. Humbled every day when we send the photos and we show how much people are enjoying it. She's happy. I'll say humbled and happy and content and smiley. This is how Cher is at the moment about it.
Would you say that there are any plans to expand to more cities or partner with retailers across the country?
At the moment, my main goal is to do well with what I have: to deliver great or insanely great ice cream to the people of LA out of a truck. We make it fresh every day. It's quite a process of what we've been doing at the moment, and running a truck is challenging because of car parks, finding the spot and this and that. It's all very different from having your own store. On the other hand, I see the future with optimism, I can say that. I'm not seeing what would be an expansion plan for this yet. I think it's way too early.
If I could turn back time — and yes, I did just make a Cher reference there — and go to the beginning of this interview, is there something that you wish I had asked that I didn't that you think people should know about?
I'll say, "Is the ice cream good?" and I'd say, "It's fucking amazing." It's done with the best ingredients. It's done with all the passion that we hold by two people ... they probably are the two most passionate ice cream lovers in the world, me and her. If you trust just the passion that is behind these two people, then please give us a shot and let us know what you think.