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A Second Helping: Original Owner Buys Back Hanover Gelato Shop, Mulls Franchises

  • On July 2, 2010, Morgan Morano pours a hazelnut gelato mixture into her Italian gelato machine when she was co-owner of Morano Gelato in Hanover, N.H. Morano sold the business in 2013 but recently bought it back and has expansion plans via. franchising. (Valley News - Patrick T. Fallon) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Coconut cream and almond cookie from Morano Gelato in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Amy Munro, of New London, N.H., scans the cold case at Morano Gelato in Hanover, N.H., where she was training for a summer job on June 3, 2011. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Hanover — Morano Gelato, the Hanover gelato cafe that was founded in 2010 and quickly became a popular destination for its creamy Italian dessert, is returning to the hands of its founder.

Morgan Morano, who developed the gelato recipes and began selling the dessert out of freezer cases at the Norwich Farmers Market before opening the cafe in Hanover, has teamed up with a New London couple to buy back the store from the two couples she sold it to in 2013.

The transfer is expected to be completed this month.

Morano’s partnering for recontrol of the Hanover store is the keystone of her plan several years in the works to expand the eponymous gelato brand at locations through franchise agreements, she said in a telephone interview.

“This will be the flagship store going forward,” Morano said, explaining it will be the place to showcase the business to potential franchise owners, train them how to properly run the operation, and the place for “recipe development” of new gelato flavors and products “before we roll them out at other stores.”

“It’s an important store for me to be a part owner,” Morano said.

New stores are expected to open later this year in Westfield, N.J., and in New Hampshire under franchisee ownership. But Morano said the plan is to expand judiciously and avoid the rush to open a gelato store on every Main Street, as frequently happens with franchise concepts.

“We are not going to be growing exponentially,” Morano said. “We’re doing a very controlled growth. We’re looking for people who have a high attention to detail and a passion for making gelato.”

The Hanover store, located in the same complex as the Nugget Theater on Main Street, will be closed from Jan. 3 to Jan. 14 while the floor plan is modified. When the store reopens, it will include new gelato flavors, new desserts such as gelato cakes and an expanded line of espresso drinks.

The 32-year-old Morano sold the Hanover store three years ago to Norwich residents Jennifer and John Langhus and Pam and Bill Miles. John Langhus is vice president of business development at Norwich Technologies, a White River Junction solar power company. Bill Miles is senior vice president and general manager of Picaboo, a Hanover digital image publisher and printer.

Morano said she has been in close contact with the sellers — she retained the title “executive chef” — over the past three years and said the opportunity to buy back the store “was presented on their side and accepted on our side.” She said the sellers “did an outstanding job” running the store, but “both families are occupied with running other businesses as well.”

Morano declined to discuss financial details, but said the Hanover store “can serve up to 1,200 cups on busy July day.”

The Langhuses and Mileses did not immediately respond to messages left requesting comment.

After selling the Hanover store, Morano wrote a book, The Art of Making Gelato: 50 Flavors to Make at Home and opened a second Morano Gelato store in a shopping mall in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill. She said that even though foot traffic is declining at malls across the U.S., customers are willing to buck the trend for “the craziest new ice cream cone.”

After an initial “rough year” — hampered by the delayed opening of a Frank Pepe’s pizza outlet that she had intentionally located her store alongside to benefit from customer flow — the Chestnut Hill location is now humming, Morano said.

“As soon as they opened, our sales were up 50 percent and it’s worked out well,” she said.

Morano also has used the second location as a laboratory of sorts to experiment with new gelato recipes — introducing 14 new flavors in the past year alone, including “Baked Alaska” (a layer of strawberry sorbet, a layer of milk chocolate gelato, topped with toasted meringue and Italian sponge cake mixed throughout); “Cremino” (triple chocolate hazelnut fudge with milk chocolate plus hazelnut gelato with chocolate-hazelnut ganache); “Gelato al Wafer” (vanilla and hazelnut gelato with wafer pieces); “Pavlova” (Amarena cherry, meringue and meringue pieces), and “Matcha Green Tea.”

The new flavors will be available at the Hanover store when it reopens.

To help vet franchise applications, Morano has hired Troy Taylor, a veteran of the franchising business.

Nonetheless, Morano said she preferred not to call it a franchise “because of the negative connotations. We call them business owners.”

Moreno reacquired the Hanover store with partners Victoria and Richard Simek, of New London.

Victoria Simek has worked in marketing at New London’s Morgan Hill Bookstore, Marriott and Pepsi-Cola, and Richard Simek is a business team leader at Hypertherm. She said the Simeks now are searching for other locations in New Hampshire to open stores, but haven’t yet definitively selected sites.

Because stores require only between 800 and 1,500 square feet, startup costs are expected to be relatively modest for a franchise business — a minimum of about $350,000, Morano said. That includes both build-out costs and the franchise fee.

Morano, as the franchiser, would supply recipes, training, marketing support and certain ingredients imported from Italy and France.

The franchisee is responsible for sourcing local fresh milk and fresh ingredients, hiring, and running the store to the standards specified under the agreement.

Restaurants and entrepreneurship run in Morano’s family. Her father opened and operated restaurants around the country, while Morano did everything from busing tables and waitressing to working in the kitchen. After studying history and graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2005, she went to culinary school in New York City and later spent six years serving apprenticeships in Italy to master the art of making gelato (gelato is the Italian word for “ice cream”).

Morano’s first batches of gelato were stored in the freezers of Kimball Union Academy, where her mother, Lyn Lord, teaches history. She began selling it at the Norwich Farmers Market in the summer of 2010 when it caught the eye of Kenny Fabrikant, the former owner of Rosey Jekes apparel store in Hanover. Fabrikant invited her to open a gelato counter in the ground-floor space on the backside of his building, and word of the creamy Italian dessert quickly spread.

Within a year, Morano moved her business to its current location next to the Nugget, and then in 2012 expanded into the space formerly occupied by the shoe store Helium.

A hometown success, Morano Gelato is featured on the website of Hanover’s Ledyard National Bank with Morano quoted as thanking the bank for its “unwavering support of my young business and (I) look forward to strengthening our relationship as Morano Gelato continues to grow.”

And if Morano has her way, gelato might make Hanover known as something other than a college town.

She is weighing the launch of a “gelato festival” that would showcase artisan gelato makers and their products “to show consumers what a great product it is when made well.”

“And what better place to do that than Hanover, now that we are back?” Morano said.

Staff writer John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.