A Journey To Gelato
WORDSDavid Bentley & Justin Fields | PHOTOGRAPHY David Bentley
“You know the first thing people ask about me? ‘Are you Italian?’” The fact is, Randy Walton, Owner of Alotto Gelato (931 NW 23 rd ) is an Oregonian through and through. “I was born here, and my family has been in the farming business in Oregon for a long time. I feel closer to the earth.”
Since 2004, Alotto Gelato has been Portland’s most popular authentic gelateria, providing a perfect place for families to gather and take in the sights, sounds, and delicious tastes of premium Italian style gelato. Last year, Walton opened a second location at Orenco Station Plaza in Hillsboro, also a hit.
So how does a local farm kid end up as the owner of two successful gelato stores? As the publisher of this magazine, I’ve always been fascinated by what makes our local business people tick. Many of Portland’s most successful business owners have consistently proven to me that unconventional paths to success are often the most fruitful.
I met with Walton to find out more about how world adventures – combined with local Farmer’s Markets – led to business success. From auspicious beginnings come amazing local businesses, and Walton and Alotto Gelato are no exception.
Well you’ve already established that you’re not Italian. How did you first get into gelato? I have always been into food, always. I started out cooking for my family and later on I worked in restaurants. Some of my first jobs were working in restaurants in front of the house and later on in the back of the house.
Any specific restaurants in Portland? Not in Portland, but nearby. I worked up at Mount Hood Meadows just to get a ski pass. I was a ski bum. I worked during the weekends to make money and would ski during the week. Later on I went to college, got a business degree, and traveled around the world quite a bit.
It sounds like you were you the typical young Oregonian in a sense, with a strong thirst foradventure. Is that what led you to head for Europe after college? Yeah, but I went even further. I lived in West Africa for a number of years. Went to Hawaii, ended up in Europe, and then headed to Mexico and Central America.
You sound kind of fearless. It was part of growing up in a small town – I had my fill of it. So when I got the first opportunity I left town and didn’t turn back.
Do you have any family in this immediate area? They are all in Salem, still in the same community.
Tell me about the love for Gelato, where did it start? It’s more than just the love of gelato – it’s love for all kinds of food. Cooking and making gelato is something that comes naturally. When I was thinking about opening my own restaurant, I considered opening up a full service restaurant but I knew that would take quite a bit to do. Something that I knew I could do easily was focus on one or two items, so I thought “ice cream and gelato it is.”
I think I heard that you got started selling at Farmer’s Markets. How did that become a spear head for you in the beginning? We have quite a bit of fruit growing in our place in SW Portland, raspberries in particular. Because we had tons of fruits, I would make ice creams for everyone. After a period of time we started selling at farmers markets. It’s all homemade from scratch, and that translated well to becoming a business. There was clearly enough interest, so we thought to open a brick and mortar place.
Talk to me about your top 10 flavors you like to use. Everyone has favorites – what are some of yours? My favorite is a simple chocolate or vanilla. What I like to do is really hone in on one flavor at a time, and make it taste as deep and rich as possible. I’m still tweaking the chocolate after 14 years! The foundation is imagination. You can make anything — whether it’s cookie dough, or artichoke or olive oil – anything you can imagine can be made into gelato.
Give the reading audience the breakdown of ice cream and gelato. Gelato is very similar to ice cream; it’s just a different style. Gelato should be a little lighter on the palate, a little creamier, and softer. It’s flavor forward, then creaminess, then it’s cold and refreshing. With ice cream, you get cold first, then texture, then flavor. Ice cream has more cream in it so you have that very milky type of flavor, whereas gelato has much, much less cream – like a third the amount. Both have the same ingredients: milk, cream, eggs and sugar. But Ice cream is frozen harder, and gelato is flavor first, then all the other sensations come in afterwards.
When you’re not making gelato, what are some favorite dishes that you like to make? My go to foods are any types of pasta, really well prepared fresh vegetables, and anything Latin. When I make a pasta sauce, I like a fresh tomato pasta sauce, which is not cooked all day long but you can put together quickly.
Was there a moment in life that helped steer you where you are today. What are your influences? Traveling around the world helped me to be open to new ideas, and anything that might come along. Travel helped me be open to people and new ideas, and to be able to enjoy myself and help other people enjoy themselves as well.
FAVES >> favorite restaurant | caffe mingo, without a doubt. >> favorite hobbies | cars and motorcycles, anything italian. >> activities | “travel to croatia and slovenia. My wife is from there, so we went there and found the village her grandpa was from. I also like the yucatan. >> pets | two big dogs, rico suave, and akua. >> favorite place to shop | barbur world foods. >> hero: elon musk. He created paypal, founded space x, and is known for doing things to help humanity.