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Tucson natives, plus Italian chef, make Frost gelato a hit

Frost co-founder Jeff Kaiserman, left, enjoys a sorbettini (dairy free milkshake made with sorbet and sparkling water); Chef Nazario Melchionda, center, indulges in marble black cherry gelato, and Stephen Ochoa has a cone with stracciatella and creama di biscotti gelato, May 29. Photo courtesy frost A Gelato Shoppe)

It was a sunny afternoon this May with temps in the ’90s, a preview of this month’s triple digit coming attractions. After lunch at a local café, I craved a dessert that was at once scrumptious and refreshing and wouldn’t break the calorie bank. Light bulb moment! I hurried over to Frost, A Gelato Shoppe, at 7131 N. Oracle Rd. #101. After perusing the artfully arranged gelato/sorbet display case, I settled on one of my faves— bagigi peanut gelato — a swoon-worthy blend of peanut butter and chocolate, with a ribbon of salted caramel and a mix-in of chocolate hazelnut crunch.

While I was savoring my gelato delicacy in tiny spoonfuls to make it last longer, co-owner Jeffrey Kaiserman walked over for a little schmooze. As we chatted, he gave me the great news: Bagigi peanut, created by Frost’s gelato chef Nazario Melchionda, won the Technical Jury Award at the Gelato Festival America, held this past March in Miami. Frost’s flavor qualified for the Miami festival by winning the 2018 Gelato Festival America, held in Tucson.

Gelato itself goes back hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Legend has it that Isaac from the Bible offered his father Abraham an early form of the tasty treat, made from goat’s milk and snow.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Kaiserman, 39, and his co-owner, Stephen Ochoa, 38, opened the first Frost in 2005. Kaiserman calls Ochoa an honorary Jew, since Ochoa was president of Zeta Beta Tau, the inclusive Jewish fraternity, when the two were students at the University of Arizona. But the Tucson natives have actually been friends since second grade. At one time Kaiserman thought of being a sportscaster but decided he did not want to work weekends and nights. “Funny thing,” he quipped, “owning your own business requires you to work weekends and nights!”

As undergrads, the two talked about opening a business together. That concept was temporarily put on hold following college graduation, as both went on to stints in other businesses.

After Ochoa returned to Tucson, the friends turned to Kaiserman’s father, Mike, a rocket scientist, for advice. “Dad suggested we start a gelato shop here in Tucson,” the savvy businessman recalls. “We had thought of opening in L.A., but my dad said we’d get lost in the hustle bustle of a big city.” Father knew best! There are presently 13 Frost venues, with three in Tucson — and two in Kuwait.

Local venues are suggested by Kaiserman’s mother, Robin, who is in the real estate business. The name “Frost” was chosen by his sister, Melissa.

As for the Kuwait connection, it seems that one winter day in 2013, a businessman from Kuwait was in Tucson and made a stop at the La Encantada shopping center. Passing Frost, he noticed quite a few folks inside despite the nippy weather. As Kaiserman recalls, “He stepped inside, tried his favorite flavor, pistachio, and decided it was the best pistachio gelato he’d ever had.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Frost shops are filled with goodies including 26 flavors of gelato, 12 flavors of sorbet, “Frostbites” (chocolate covered gelato bites) and other treats, such as coffee drinks.

All inventory is made on site daily. “Our original Italian chef, Nazario Melchionda from Bologna, Italy, is still going strong,” Kaiserman says with pride. “One year when Melchionda returned to Italy on vacation, he had a problem getting back into this country; we convinced the authorities that his gelato artistry was not replicable, i.e. no American could do what he did.” Problem solved.

Kaiserman, his wife and kids, and his parents are all members of Congregation Anshei Israel. “I want to do things ethically in business as taught by my parents and religious school,” he says. Tikkun olam (repair of the world) is also very important to Kaiserman, and he’s involved in a variety of charitable events every year.

As for the future, the pair plans to expand both domestically and internationally. By this time next year there will be 18 Frost locations. Kaiserman jokes, “We’d like to open a store with Chef Nazario in Italy and show the Italians how it’s really done!”

Barbara Russek, a local freelance writer, welcomes comments at [email protected]