When Uli Nasibova couldn’t find an ice cream to meet her standards, she took matters into her own hands. Now, with Uli’s Gelato, she’s serving up unmatched flavor made from real, farm-fresh foods.
Uli’s Gelato starts with carefully-selected seasonal produce and you’ll taste the difference in every pint. From Bakersfield, CA’s juiciest blueberries to Baku, Azerbaijan’s famed saffron, every ingredient is hand-picked to bring peak flavor to your freezer.
Recently, we caught up with Uli to learn more about her journey and hear her advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
1. Why did you start Uli’s Gelato?
I started my company in 2012 because I was an ice cream lover who couldn’t find flavors in stores that satisfied me. I always felt like any flavor I tried was a watered-down version of what it was supposed to represent. I started formulating my own recipes to develop more intense flavors and I fell in love with the process.
After lots of experimentation, I decided on gelato instead of ice cream. While the core ingredients are almost identical, ice cream machines incorporate more air and fat into the final product. Gelato has less air and less fat — we replace that volume with more of the pint’s core flavor, whether that’s chocolate, raspberries, or pistachios! Uli’s Gelato aficionados will tell you that they love our product for its intense flavor and dense, smooth texture.
I was also inspired by farmers markets around Southern California. There is no better way to preserve perfectly ripened fruit than to turn it into top-notch frozen dessert. For example, Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet comes from organic Gaviota strawberries, picked at peak ripeness. That’s why our Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet tastes like the best farmers market strawberries you’ve ever had.
2. What obstacles did you face along the way?
In the first chapter of the company, I had two scoop shops in Los Angeles. Then, COVID-19 brought things to a standstill. My business model relied on walk-in customers and our sales plummeted. With lines of credit and emergency COVID-relief grants, I pivoted my business model to a delivery model while I worked on a new business plan to bring Uli’s Gelato to grocery stores.
I spent a year meticulously designing environmentally friendly packaging and creating nutrition labels to meet government regulations. There was one positive note during the pandemic — the readers of the Los Angeles Magazine named us Best Ice Cream in Los Angeles!
3. What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Expect to make many mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up, take these mistakes as valuable lessons. Push through the lows and work hard.
Bootstrapping requires founders to do everything in the beginning themselves. But, as soon as your revenue allows you to, be sure to hire people that can strengthen your weak points.
Lastly, be creative! Sometimes solutions are much simpler than you previously thought. With that said, I also speak with at least 5-10 people that are more experienced than me on a particular topic before making any big decisions.
4. What’s on the horizon for Uli’s Gelato?
My vision is to bring Uli’s Gelato to every natural grocery store in the United States. While many smaller neighborhood groceries supported Uli’s Gelato, Bristol Farms is our first-to-market grocery chain. I am very grateful for this partnership! The next step is expanding our footprint further into Northern California and continuing to grow the brand nationally.
5. How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
I used to have a terrible work/life balance, but all of that had to change when I became a mother for the first time in 2015 and for the second time in 2019. While my work/life balance has improved tremendously, it is never perfect. I have challenging stretches here and there – but I make a point to complement them with much needed rest and family time.
Today, being a present and a caring mother not only makes me a better entrepreneur but also is the biggest driving force for me to succeed. My eldest daughter who is 7 is starting to understand how special it is to have a business owner for a mommy. Just like entrepreneurship, being a mother — or a wife, for that matter — is all about striving to be better!
Want to hear Uli’s story in her own words? Click for her interview on KCRW’s Good Food with Evan Kleiman!