By Kurt Christian Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
WWR Article (tl;dr) In the 1970s, Naomi Posner spent her early 20s living in Ecuador, where ice cream and gelato were nearly impossible to find. So Posner went to the library and taught herself how to make ice cream. That experiment became the very beginnings of her now thriving gelato business
Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
Since 2014, the vegan gelato and soft-serve business Naomi Posner created to fuel her wanderlust has traveled nearly as much as she has.
Posner has been an entrepreneur since the age of 6.
What was once selling stickers to neighborhood kids has evolved into a wholesale vegan gelato and soft serve dry mix business.
After seeing rapid growth in 2016, Mami's Gelato expanded its product availability to 13 states and Bermuda, a long way from the business idea Posner had in Ecuador and refined in the family kitchen.
As a wholesale business, the Mami's Gelato name has remained in the background, but that could soon change.
"We're sort of riding the vegan wave," said Posner, who is also the owner of Falafels Middle Eastern Grill. "When we first started, we said we'd do what works, but now, we're getting pickier and learning as we go along."
To Posner, travel has served as both the starting point and end goal for the business.
In the 1970s, Posner spent her early 20s living in Ecuador, where ice cream and gelato were nearly impossible to find.
So Posner went to the library and taught herself how to make ice cream. The story's beginning is characteristic of Posner, according to her daughter and the brand's photographer, Natasha Komoda. She's a problem solver, Komoda said, and once Posner finds a solution, she's driven to share it.
"I just had this natural knack for entrepreneurship," Posner said, and she has about five business ideas she can't stop thinking about. "What I can't help doing is starting and running businesses."
Posner continued to travel and wound up owning Falafels in Bloomington, working with her husband, Victor Varela, Falafels' general manager and director of operations for Mami's Gelato. It was there where she revived her interest in making gelato and recruited her family to work in the business. Whereas many other gelato mix businesses stem from dairy product manufacturers, and are therefore a liquid dairy mix, Posner created a dry mix that was easier for her to store. And by using a dry, coconut-based mix, she met the demand for vegan desserts she didn't even know existed.
"If you do this as you do a dairy product, you kind of back yourself into a corner," Posner said. And authentic Italian gelato recipes are often dairy-free due to a lack of dairy cows in the region, she said. "And the more I learn about veganism, the more I'm fascinated by it. It makes me very happy the younger generation is following that diet."
Knowing the business would target a national customer base rather than a local one, vice president of sales Nate O'Donnell said the people ordering the gelato in Bloomington were often from neighboring communities and the coasts. O'Donnell -- Posner's son-in-law and Komoda's husband -- said despite being in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Bermuda, it makes sense for the business to be here.
"To me, we're definitely a very Bloomington business in the sense that we combine creativity and knowledge and learning and science," O'Donnell said. "The initial response we got from the admittedly small vegan community in Bloomington prompted us to get bigger, and that's when we learned the market for vegan desserts was a ripe opportunity."
"There's something about Bloomington that makes it a breeding ground for creativity," Posner added, saying you can live cheap while developing your business.
In visiting trade shows and securing customers, Mami's Gelato produces its vegan gelato and soft serve mixes through contract manufacturers. The product is then distributed across the nation and beyond, where ice cream shops, restaurants, vegan doughnut shops and more receive the mix. Then, workers simply have to re-hydrate the mix and add in any extra flavorings.
"I'm always looking for ways to not be involved," Posner said. "There's no way I could've done it myself. I see everyone's role in the business as not just developing Mami's Gelato, but also developing themselves."
As Posner looks to venture into more foreign markets and expand the line to include hot drink and bubble tea mixes, daughter and designer Ellie Komoda's job will be to bring the wholesale business's brand to the forefront. Many of the company's customers don't license the Mami's name, and sell the product as their own.
Though Mami's first client was the Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station (BRICS) in Indianapolis, the product is now featured across the nation. It's at Stew Leonard's supermarkets in Connecticut and New York; it's featured at the famed vegan Valhalla Bakery's Valkyrie Doughnuts shop in Florida; and it's locally available in pints at Bloomingfoods West and Lucky's Market.
Posner even claims the Kardashians frequently eat at a BuddhaBerry frozen yogurt shop in the Hamptons where Mami's is featured.
Despite the brand's growing prevalence, Posner said she'd like to move away from the helm of the business when the time comes.
"When or if Mami's crumbles and fails or gets so successful we need a better CEO, I want to spend my time encouraging women entrepreneurs," Posner said, recalling the way trade show attendees would default to talking to O'Donnell. "I would really like to find a way to be a mentor for other women. I think they shouldn't be afraid. If you have an idea, just do it."