Lehman Strategist Finds Risk Can Pay, Making Italian Ice Cream

Carlo del Mistro
Carlo del Mistro samples an ice cream in one of his parlors in London. Del Mistro quit Lehman Brothers to create Gelato Mio. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Carlo del Mistro thought he was taking a risk when he started his own business, stepping away from his investment-bank employer to make ice cream.

That bank was Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., in Canary Wharf, and the time was 2008. Not bad timing, as it happens.

“I left the City in 2007 to do an MBA at the London Business School and I was sponsored by Lehman,” says Del Mistro, 29, who left behind his London job in corporate strategy and business development, assessing carbon-market opportunities. “During the first summer break, I decided -- instead of doing an internship in some big firm -- to start my own business,” he says. “The idea was, if I don’t like it, I can go back to Lehman. It was the end of 2008 when I discovered that my sponsor was no more and my ice-cream business was thriving.”

Mistro is one of many bankers to find a new career away from finance. As banks and insurance companies wrote down $1.8 trillion after the collapse of Lehman, a few of the 346,000 workers they fired invested their leaving pay in pursuing dreams. Others left voluntarily for work as varied as protecting tigers, making skis and producing films.

Gelato Mio Ltd. began as a single shop in Holland Park, selling the kind of ice cream that Del Mistro enjoyed back home in Italy. (He was born in Sondrio, in the north of the country.)

“The year 2008, when we started up, was quite tough, because banks were getting very conservative in their lending and I financed most of it through equity,” he says. “We got the first round of financing from an Italian bank, UBI Banca. Now, we have four shops and we’re turning over 1.5 million pounds ($2.37 million). We turn a small but tidy profit. It’s satisfying.”

Fresh Fruit

We’re talking in the Fulham branch, where Del Mistro and his team make the ice cream for the chain in a kitchen out back. The other branches are in Holland Park, Notting Hill and St. John’s Wood, relatively affluent areas with people willing and able to pay 2.90 pounds for a scoop of ice cream made with fresh fruit.

As we head out of the kitchen and into the parlor to try flavors such as chocolate, peach and pistachio, the sun disappears and the heavens open, with torrential rain beating through the open shop front.

“The weather in the U.K. is very difficult,” he says as his assistant closes the doors and fetches a mop. “During the winter, ice cream clearly doesn’t sell as well, so we’re starting to create ice-cream cupcakes. We’re also organizing workshops for people who want to learn how to make ice cream.

“Retail is our core business but it’s nice also to have secondary sources of revenue, such as selling to restaurants.”

Gelupo, Cocorino

Del Mistro appreciates that as Londoners develop a taste for real Italian-style ice cream, so competition will grow. The fashionable restaurant Bocca di Lupo has given birth to the parlor Gelupo, while Francesco Mazzei, the chef at L’Anima, helped create specialist Cocorino.

The graduate in business administration from the Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, in Milan, reckons that the market will continue to grow. Meanwhile, he says he’s returned to the City in a way, as Gelato Mio delivers ice cream each Friday to traders at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and to Deutsche Bank AG.

Has he gone back to Canary Wharf?

“Not yet,” he says with a smile before hopping onto his motor scooter to visit another of his parlors.

Gelato Mio, 138 Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UE. Tel. +44-20-7727-4117 or click on http://www.gelatomio.co.uk/,

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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