Last fall, Dolcezza announced that it would be closing five of its gelato and coffee shops around the DC area because of pandemic strains.
“We’ve been through some hardcore shit, myself and [my wife/business partner] Violetta, in our lives, going down to the Amazon and shamans and traveling. We’ve been to the edge of the abyss and looked over before. That’s what we did in our youth for fun,” owner Rob Duncan says. The pandemic was hardcore in a new way. At the beginning when everything shutdown, Duncan wondered whether the business would actually survive. “This kind of stuff changes when you are now responsible for a family and kids and a business.”
Thankfully, they’re back from the abyss again. After an influx of federal aid money and further negotiations with landlords, the final picture isn’t as grim as it initially seemed to be. Only the Wharf and Logan Circle locations have ultimately closed. CityCenterDC and Bethesda outposts have remained open and Dupont recently reopened. The gelato-maker’s Union Market factory remains, but the retail portion is now gone.
To celebrate surviving the past year, Dolcezza will be giving out free small portions of chocotorta gelato at all of its locations today. The limited-edition flavor is based on a traditional Argentinian celebration cake layered with dulce de leche, cream cheese, chocolate cookies, and coffee.
“Every single birthday celebration for myself or my kids, we always have chocotorta,” Duncan says.
Duncan says a “saving grace” for the company has been its wholesale business. Its gelato is now found in 500 Whole Foods locations across the country, among other retail locations. Pre-pandemic wholesale sales made up about 30 percent of Dolcezza’s business. Now, it’s at 50 percent. They’re rolling out two new Argentinian-inspired flavors—tramontana with dulce de leche and little chocolate-covered cookies, as well as Swiss chocolate with dulce de leche and stracciatella—to stores in April.
“Diversity is key for survival,” Duncan says. “The forrest will tell you that. Any ecosystem will tell you that. Now we’ve learned that for ourselves.”