Before Italian entrepreneur Edoardo Tonolli opened Bacio di Latte, his chain of gelaterias, artisanal-ice-cream shops were virtually nonexistent in Brazil. Over the last 13 years, he has turned one small store on São Paulo’s tony Rua Oscar Freire into the biggest artisanal-ice-cream chain in the world, with more than 175 storefronts in Brazil alone. On Bacio di Latte’s Instagram page, which has almost half a million followers, fans leave comments such as “[Eating here] was the best experience I’ve ever had” and “thank God you exist.”

In 2017, Edoardo, 41, opened the first American outpost of Bacio di Latte, in Los Angeles. In addition to its usual flavors, such as pistachio and nocciola, he added American-inspired ones, like caramel, and cookies and cream. This month, after opening locations in Brentwood, Century City, and Newport Beach, Bacio di Latte is opening a fifth U.S. store, in Marina del Rey.

Bacio di Latte’s California shops have American-inspired flavors, such as cookies and cream.

Growing up in Milan, Tonolli didn’t work in food or have a connection to Brazil. In 2008, a master’s course at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart ignited his gelato passion. A professor told his economics class that aside from Grom, a moderately successful Turinese ice-cream chain with locations across Europe and Asia, no one had ever managed to export artisanal Italian ice cream.

A year later, Tonolli traveled to northern Brazil for the first time, volunteering at a local hospital for 11 months. On his way home, as he flew out of São Paulo, he realized that despite the warm climate year-round, “there was just no proper Italian ice cream in the city.”

Back in Milan, he started researching local gelato shops. He teamed up with his older brother, Luigi, and recruited the Scottish businessman Nicholas Johnson, who had years of experience in the Brazilian market.

The major hurdle was securing funding, which ultimately came from an unlikely source—$233,000 from the sale of his father’s vintage car. São Paulo was an obvious choice for the first gelateria, explains Tonolli. With more than 20 million residents, it’s Brazil’s biggest city.

Inside Bacio di Latte’s Brentwood location.

On January 8, 2011, the first shop finally opened. “It was well received from the beginning,” says Tonolli. By the second year, he’d opened three more stores and was selling 881 pounds of ice cream on a typical Saturday alone. He’s stayed true to his initial concept throughout—producing fresh ice cream made with organic, high-quality ingredients.

After São Paulo, where he now lives full-time, he set up shops in 38 cities around Brazil, including Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador de Bahia.

Tonolli has built an enormous business with more than 2,000 employees, and he shows no signs of slowing down. “We are doing California first, because of the climate,” Tonolli says. “Next, who knows? We’ve never liked to impose limits on what we do.”

Elena Clavarino is a Senior Editor at AIR MAIL