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Little step by little step – the artisan way

Ashwaubenon’s Sara’s Artisan Gelato has seen tremendous growth since opening in 2019

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February 9, 2023

ASHWAUBENON – As the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant, Sara Santaga, owner of Sara’s Artisan Gelato, said she grew up with a strong Italian influence and love for the culture.

“My grandfather Aldo was an immigrant from Italy, and we were very close,” she said.

It was on the trips to Italy taken as a child that Santaga said her interest in the country’s frozen creamy dessert began to transition from a childhood love to a potential career.

“In the trips I had taken to Italy while growing up, I, like many Americans, fell in love with gelato,” she said.

Over the years, Santaga said the same entrepreneurial bug that bit her parents – small business owners themselves – found its way to her.

“Gelato was something I thought would be fun to bring to my hometown of Green Bay, since there was nothing like it in the area,” she said. “I always liked the idea of working for myself and having a business.”

In the summer of 2016, Santaga said she began to work as a line cook in order to earn the money needed to attend school.
“I decided to try gelato school to see if I enjoyed the process,” she said. “I finished culinary school in May 2017 and was in Italy learning how to make gelato in June and July of 2017.”

Santaga studied at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy, for four weeks.

“I ended up loving the process – it was creative and fun,” she said. “I decided to apply for an LLC in August of 2017 to start my gelato business.”

Sara Santaga said the success Sara’s Artisan Gelato has had over the years has been a dream come true. Submitted Photo

Santaga said she purchased a “very old, used” gelato machine on Ebay and set up shop in her parents’ basement – “yes, very cliche” – and began testing recipes.

“I would bring samples of my flavors to family and friends to get their opinions, and that’s how I came up with a lot of my recipes,” she said. “I ended up finding a place that had kitchen space for rent, got licensed to wholesale gelato to businesses and restaurants and started that in February 2018.”

Brick-and-mortar location
Santaga said she wholesaled gelato for nearly a year, but eventually ran out of space in the rental kitchen – which jump started her journey to opening a brick-and-mortar store of her own.

“I wanted to offer a retail shop with a gelato case, as well as wholesale, so I started looking for a new location,” she said.

That led to the opening of Sara’s Artisan Gelato in March 2019 at 933 Anderson Dr. in Ashwaubenon.

“I am so glad I did the retail store as well because I love interacting with customers and creating a good experience for them here with our handcrafted gelato,” she said.

Santaga said the store offers more than just gelato.

“We have homemade cookies available, and you can buy them individually or you can build your own gelato cookie sandwich,” she said. “We also have warm brownie sundaes with homemade brownies, and a delicious – yes, homemade – hot chocolate.”

Santaga said Sara’s Artisan Gelato is also home to Green Bay’s first, and only, gelato flights.

“Like a beer flight – you can pick six flavors,” she said. “In the summer, we also have gelato floats we make with Baumeister sodas.”

Sara’s Artisan Gelato also sells pints of edible cookie dough and jars of its homemade salted caramel and hot fudge sauce.
“And of course, we have pints of gelato, scoops of gelato and homemade waffle cones – the cones are well-loved by our customers,” she said. 

Santaga said the Ashwaubenon location has been a great fit for the flagship gelato store.

This coming summer will be the third summer Sara’s Artisan Gelato’s seasonal location in Fish Creek has been open. Submitted Photo

“It is a nice, centralized location for our customers, and there are lots of new businesses that pop up in the area all the time,” she said. “We love being close to Lambeau (Field), too.”

The store’s close proximity to the home of the Green Bay Packers has led to partnerships with Delaware North – the team’s food service partner, and a handful of other Lambeau-area businesses.

“We wholesale our gelato in Lambeau on the club level,” she said. “We wholesale to The Turn, and we also sell our gelato in 46 Below, the cafe underneath the sledding hill at Titletown.”

Continued growth
Since 2019, Santaga said the business has grown tremendously – with the Anderson Drive location and the partnerships with Lambeau as just the beginning for Sara’s Artisan Gelato.

In the last couple of years, she said Sara’s Artisan Gelato opened a seasonal location in Fish Creek and added additional wholesale accounts.

“In places like Mount Horeb (in Dane County) and all the way to Marquette, Michigan,” she said.

Santaga said the seasonal location in Door County was a no-brainer.

“At the time, The Whistling Swan was owned by Bill Tressler who owns Hinterland Brewery… we had a great professional history,” she said. “He owned the building at the time which included The Whistling Swan and had one of the three retail spaces below the restaurant available for the first time in many years. He called me and offered the spot to me because they needed to update the space anyway and could build it out how I needed it.”

Santaga said she never expected to open a second location so soon, “but it was a perfect location and an amazing opportunity.”

“I had spent many summers in Door County as I was growing up, and it is such a special place to me – I couldn’t say no,” she said. “So, we decided to go for it. This summer will be the third year we will be open up there. It has been awesome for us – it does well in the summer.”

Because Door County is so busy that time of year, Santaga said they make everything in Green Bay and bring it up weekly.

Further reach
Recently, Santaga said her brother has joined the team and has taken the business to a whole new level.

“My brother has joined the business as my partner, and he is helping me take this business to places I never could have imagined doing on my own,” she said.

Those “places” include the freezer shelves of grocery stores throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

“Gelato pints in grocery stores has always been a dream of mine since I started this business, but it has only been a reality more recently,” she said. “It’s been an amazing journey.”

Santaga said the first stores that stocked Sara’s Artisan Gelato were Maplewood Meats and Main Street Market in Egg Harbor.
That, she said, was just the beginning.

“Recently, since my brother Jonathan has joined the business, we have been able to do the work to meet the requirements of being in larger grocery store spaces like Hy-Vee, Sal’s Foods of Allouez and Piggly Wiggly in Howard,” she said.

Santaga said that includes things like creating the nutritional labels and getting the UPC codes for our top flavors.

“We are also in the process of launching in a few more grocery stores we will announce soon,” she said.

Santaga said being in grocery stores is an important milestone for Sara’s Artisan Gelato.

Sara’s Artisan Gelato is available in a handful of Northeast Wisconsin grocery stores, including Sal’s in Allouez. Submitted Photo

“We are a local product and still a relatively small business, so being in grocery stores helps make our product more accessible to our customers, and it helps spread brand recognition as well,” she said. 

Not done yet
Santaga said Sara’s Artisan Gelato’s not done growing yet.

“We have a lot of plans for continued growth,” she said. “We would love to expand to other cities in Wisconsin and try to make our product accessible to more people. I would love for the brand to grow and for people who have never tried gelato to have the chance to experience it.”

Santaga said they are focusing on the wholesale side of things right now, but another location isn’t out of the question.

“We love the wholesale side of things, and we are focused on that currently, but if the right location came along, we would love to grow the retail side of things too,” she said. 

Santaga said watching the idea that started in her parents’ basement blossom into what it is today is exciting and humbling.

“Of course, that is every business owner’s goal – to see their business do well and to be able to make a living doing their dream every day,” she said. “That’s what it is for my brother and I.”

Santaga said they enjoy every aspect that comes with owning a business.

“The problem solving, the new ideas, trying to find ways to be more efficient and better,” she said.

As a small business owner, Santaga said Sara’s Artisan Gelato is passionate about providing a “high-quality product, high-quality customer service and a fair price.”

“Those are the three things we strive for every day,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to do this with (my brother) as a partner – we have a lot of fun working together. Our individual talents are unique, so we compliment each other well as partners.”

More about the gelato
One of the things Santaga said sets Sara’s Artisan Gelato apart is its focus on making all its gelato from scratch using its own recipes.

“The gelato is made using local milk and cream, and it is made fresh daily,” she said. “We make as many components of our gelato from scratch as possible – like our salted caramel sauce, our fudge sauce, our cookie dough pieces, our brownie pieces, candied nuts, lemon curd – the list goes on.”

Santaga said each recipe that makes its way to customers – in the store or wholesale – has been tested and adjusted to meet Sara’s Artisan Gelato standards.

Each component of the gelato flavor has had effort, attention and a lot of love put into it,” she said. “I believe that is something you can taste when you try our product.”

Santaga said Sara’s offers a mix of traditional gelato flavors (such as pistachio, amarena cherry and stracciatella) and more creative or traditional ice cream flavors made with Italian gelato techniques (such as banana cream pie, brown butter pecan and chocolate chip cookie dough and even seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice cheesecake and white chocolate peppermint).

“We use high-quality ingredients like actual espresso (not flavorings), Belgian chocolate, pure pistachio paste and imported Italian Amarena cherries,” she said.

In the gelato world, Santaga said there are shortcuts that can be taken when making and producing gelato – but that is something you are “usually able to taste.”

“Here at Sara’s, we make everything the way I was taught in Italy – the artisan way that pays attention to the handcrafting and the art that traditionally makes gelato so delicious,” she said.

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