While you may not think of making gelato as manufacturing, the process of taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a delicious frozen treat depends heavily on the same processes, commitment to quality, and understanding of customer needs as any manufacturing process does. Made in Medina County sat down with BJ and Nicole Mikoda, owners of Dolce at the Strand, to hear how their business has come about.
Q: Thank you both so much for meeting with us! Could you tell us how Dolce came into being?
A: In 2008 we bought the Valley Café in Akron. BJ had cooked in college and wanted to get back to it, so we retooled it to match his cooking style. We knew we wanted a second location and started looking. When we looked in Wadsworth, we loved the location but it didn’t have a hood so we couldn’t have the full-service kitchen we wanted. Clearly, we were supposed to be here because as we walked out, we ran into the building owner who worked with us to outfit the building. The timing was amazing.
When we were ready for the next expansion, we realized how much we love Wadsworth. The community is just great and we didn’t want to go elsewhere. So that meant we needed a different concept for our next restaurant. At this time, the owners of the Strand approached us about using that location. It is so iconic in Wadsworth – we just loved it.
We had a location, so now we needed a concept. We didn’t want to put in a hood so it couldn’t be full-service food. We went to dinner with some friends and at the end all agreed it would be great to go somewhere to get great desserts and cocktails. We had recently been in Florence Italy and loved gelato. Also, no one else was doing it in the area. So Dolce at the Strand was born!
Q: It sounds like a lot of things came together just at the right time! Can you explain a little more about why gelato?
BJ is a very creative chef and gelato really allows for his creativity to come through. Also, we found Gelato University where we were taught the chemistry behind gelato by a terrific woman with a family history in gelato. They have been making it for literally hundreds of years. She has been a huge resource and helped us understand that when you add fresh fruit, you have to change the sugar and fat content to balance the recipe. Cooking is always chemistry and this really brought that home for us.
It also allowed us to keep the same philosophy we have at Valley Café – amazing, fresh food and amazing friendly service. We want Dolce to be a gathering place. We want to celebrate life with our customers.
And gelato is the gateway to the rest. We knew we wanted to keep the building as an icon, so we put in the mural and made sure we were celebrating the community. The patio allows for bocce ball and live music. It is a great place for a date night, girls night, night out with the kids, etc. Kids even come here for pictures before the dances and come over after school from Central Intermediate. We are really a multi-generational hangout.
Q: You offer more than just gelato, right?
Oh yes! We have wonderful baked desserts including Italian cookies, cakes, pies, and more. We also offer cocktails, boozy shakes, and wine. And if you haven’t had a cocktail with gelato as the base, you are missing out!
Q: My favorite is the affogatos! How did I not know my coffee was missing gelato? When did you open?
We opened in December of 2019. We were so excited in August when they delivered the gelato-making machine from Italy. It was huge and they just set it on the sidewalk. We got everything ready and opened our doors, only to be closed for COVID less than three months later.
Q: Obviously, restaurants were hit really hard throughout this pandemic. How has it been going for you?
It has been very tough. It really feels like we’ve only been open for 90 days since we didn’t get to stay open. We made some tough choices and closed Dolce for a period of time. We still sold gelato from Valley Café, but it was hard. But each time things looked their worst, something happened that really helped. Entrepreneurs by nature do things on their own so accepting help was tough for us.
Q: What kind of help did you receive?
The PPP loan was very important to stay open. And the Medina County Small Business Grant was invaluable. It really meant we could keep going. It came just at the right time.
Q: What challenges did you face to reopen?
We were so glad we were able to reopen and keep everyone safe. Our staff was thrilled to come back as well. We have a strong leadership team at all three locations. Right now our staff at Dolce is very young and we need to find some seasoned workers.
Q: Many of our companies talk about workforce. How has that been for you?
We have a terrific staff that is really like family. We’re very careful to hire the right people so they fit in with our culture. The biggest challenge is finding people with baking experience. There are lots of people out there that have taken discs out of a package and put them in an oven, but that’s not baking for us. We would love to expand our hours, but we need to find the workers first.
Q: We all would love to see expanded hours! Since gelato was new to most people in the area, has anything surprised you?
Gelato really takes people places they don’t expect. The first time we did rosemary and olive oil, people wanted to try it but were ready to not like it. One customer said his brain wasn’t going to like it but his mouth said, “more, more more”! He bought a couple pints for home. And that’s one of the things that is most fun. Watching people try things and their eyes light up
Q: What do you see in Dolce’s future?
We’re excited to be able to be open with some stability. It is very difficult to gauge how successful a start-up business is in a pandemic. But we want to find ways to bring people down from the North and over from Summit County. We also would love to have a cart to take to weddings and other events. And then we also want to look at restaurants and wholesaling. So we have big plans.
Q: Any final thoughts for our readers?
Just that Wadsworth is a really unique community. We love being here and have found our tribe. The community support has been terrific!
For more information about Dolce at the Strand, please visit https://dolceatthestrand.com.