If you don’t think true love exists, a visit to Stella Luna Gelato Café will make any non-believer change their mind. On the surface, Stella Luna serves up the best gelato in the city. However, behind the popular café is the love story of a lifetime.
Tammy Giuliani was just 19 years-old when she decided to travel to Italy. “I wanted more adventure so I packed my bags and jumped on a plane,” says Tammy thinking back on her impulsive decision.
Arriving in Italy, she felt overwhelmed and unaccustomed to the new environment, language and culture. One day, she lost her sense of direction and couldn’t find her way back to her hotel. “What was I thinking coming here by myself?” she thought. But at that moment, she heard the purr of a Ducati. Her future husband came around the corner on his bike and pulled up beside her. “Looking back now, neither one of us can explain what happened but we both intuitively knew that this was it.” Recalling her past, Tammy’s eyes sparkle and her smile grows wider. I can tell she is still madly in love to this day.
“In Italian, there’s an expression, ‘colpo di fulmine’, which means struck by lightning, and I think both of us were just struck,” she continues.
Tammy couldn’t speak Italian. Alessandro barely knew English. Despite the language barrier, dinner outings, movie dates and personal tours of Rome commenced. Four days later, Alessandro proposed. He wanted her to stay in Italy and marry him.
Shocked and bewildered, she thought the idea was crazy, but Alessandro changed her mind. “I remember he managed to say ‘you North Americans have your feet too firmly on the ground, you have to learn to lift up your feet and fly’.”
And so she flew. Tammy married Alessandro and moved to Italy. However, her husband was not the only love she discovered during her time in the Mediterranean.
“We were expert gelato eaters before we became master chefs; it was a passion of ours,” she explains.
In Italy, gelato is not only a decadent treat; it is also an important staple of everyday life. Tammy describes the delicious dessert as a social activity that brings the community together.
“What do you do when you wake up from a nap in the heat of the summer? Everyone goes walking for a gelato. After dinner, you go to your local gelato shop and meet your neighbours along the way.”
Incorporating gelato in her new life, Tammy was passionate about eating and finding the perfect scoop of the Italian delicacy. “Our quest to find the perfect gelato would take us on five hour drives [to different cities] because we heard a place had great gelato.”
The search for the best gelato lasted a decade and when the couple decided to move to Canada, they knew producing gelato was a dream they wanted to pursue. However, the dream was put on hold as they decided to start a family. Today they have three children: Zachary, Erica and Matthew.
“When the youngest child went to school full time, we really felt it was time to pull out that dream,” says Tammy.
Returning to Italy, Tammy enrolled in the Carpagni Institute in Bologna. Although grateful for the opportunity to learn gelato making from the best, Tammy wasn’t prepared for what was in store for her.
“They took us out of the laboratory and sat us down at a desk with a calculator…it was all chemistry and math…I felt it was way beyond my ability,” says Tammy about her intensive masters class.
She describes herself as someone who needs to know everything and when it came to gelato, Tammy put her passion and perseverance to the test. After completing her studies and mastering the art of gelato production, she returned home to open Stella Luna.
What’s in a name you ask?
On a trip to Venice, Tammy stumbled into a store of carnival masks. Two masks stood out from all the rest: Stella and Luna. Translating to star and moon, the expressions on both masks spoke to Tammy in a way she couldn’t shake off. “It’s the expression you make when you take that first lick of a really, really delicious, freshly made, artisan gelato,” she explains.
From its inception, Stella Luna lives by two rules: fresh quality foods and exceptional customer service. “Artisan gelato production is an art…we make everything from scratch daily and don’t rely on any pre-packaged bases.”
Trying a spoonful of mango sorbet and chocolate gelato, I’m immediately transported to cloud nine. The mango tasted so fresh, it felt as if I were eating an actual mango. The chocolate was heavenly with the perfect balance of cocoa, cream and sugar. There is no denying Tammy has a gift.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Stella Luna holds a 92 per cent rating on Urban Spoon and was voted as one of the top places to dine in Ottawa on TripAdvisor.
“I had customers from Virginia one day and I said welcome to Ottawa and asked what they were doing here. They said they came to see me. I thought they were joking but then they pulled out TripAdvisor…I was so humbled.”
Looking around the bustling café, which is located on the corner of Bank and Sunnyside, in Ottawa, I am amazed at what this woman has accomplished. The smell of fresh espresso fills my nostrils. The chatter of satisfied lunch patrons and squealing of frothing milk fill the air. The space is warm and inviting with cozy couches. Portraits and art hang from the walls and make it feel like home. My eyes are drawn to the vibrant gelato display showcasing beautiful mounds of the frozen dessert, each flavor made with patience, care and passion a few hours prior.
“It’s been such an amazing journey and I try to never lose sight of humility because I am so grateful everyday that things worked out,” Tammy concludes.
Checking the time, I realize hours have gone by. It is now three in the afternoon, two more hours and Alessandro will be at Stella Luna. “Alessandro comes at 5pm everyday after work and when I hear that back door open, I start looking around and wonder if its him.”
After three decades of being together, the butterflies in her stomach are still there.
A firm believer in true love, Tammy says the heart is intuitive and listening to it is key in finding love.
“We think with our head too much and love is an emotion of the heart…we get cluttered by people’s advice and our head trying to be logical and often that clutter can distract us from the truth and the truth is in your heart.”