Photos Andy Calvert
Imagine strolling down Broad Street after enjoying a delightful meal at a downtown eatery. Overhead, the stars are twinkling from a velvety, indigo sky. A soft, warm breeze kisses your cheek. It’s been a lovely evening, and you’re not quite ready to bid your dining companion adieu. You turn a corner and are drawn toward a soft glow, the sound of muted laughter, and an irresistible aroma.
A few steps later, you discover a charming European style café serving a mouthwatering array of irresistible treats: Italian cream soda, espresso, affogato, liege waffles crusted with Belgian pearl sugar, sorbetto, and its close cousin – the star of the menu – sweet, creamy, rich gelato, handmade in the Italian tradition.
Welcome to la dolce vita, the sweet life, served with Southern hospitality at Honeycream, Rome’s first artisan gelato café, or gelateria, as the Italians would say.
More joy, less busy
Launched this summer, Honeycream is the realization of a long-held dream for retired Air Force pilot Mike Meyer and his wife Christie. The pair, along with their children, Naomi (19), Tovah (17), and Jonah (14), settled in Rome shortly after Mike’s retirement so he could pursue the next phase of his career, flying for Delta Air Lines.
Almost as soon as the Meyer family adjusted to the rhythms of their new life, COVID-19 swept the nation, bringing everything to a halt. Now in isolation together, the family had plenty of time to take long walks, talk, and share their dreams.
“We’d been a military family for 20 years,” Christie said. “We had lived a whirlwind life, and when COVID hit, it gave us time to take a deep breath and re-examine our lives. We realized we needed more joy and less busy. The great pause gave us time to consider doing the thing we had dreamed about for years, opening a gelato shop.”
When in Rome
Mike had fallen in love with gelato when he was stationed in Italy, and the more the family talked about making their dream a reality, the more the rich confection seemed a perfect fit for where they were in their lives, both literally and figuratively. “We wanted to do something really special,” he said, “and when we discovered Rome didn’t have an authentic, artisan gelato shop, we knew that was it.”
With the decision made, the Meyers reached out to an old Italian friend who owns and operates a gelato shop in Utah. Taking the Meyers under his wing, he taught them about running a business and helped them make a connection with another Italian gelato maker living in the U.S. who mentored them in the fine art of gelato making.
An ancient treat
Gelato traces its origins back 12,000 years to Mesopotamia where ice and snow was collected from mountains and used to cool drinks served during royal banquets and religious ceremonies. Later, Arabs added sugar syrup, creating the predecessor of sorbet.
Gelato, as we know it today, began in the Renaissance when alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri served the first gelato flavor, fior di latte, or flower of milk, at the court of the Medici family in Florence. Made of milk, cream, and sugar, the concoction was a hit, but one only to be enjoyed by the wealthy. Many years later, architect and amateur cook Bernardo Buontalenti refined the recipe, and in 1686, Francesco Procopio Cutò introduced gelato to the world when he opened Café Le Procope in Paris. Today, the celebrated treat even has a museum dedicated to it, the Gelato Museum Carpigiani in Bologna, Italy.
More than simply Italian ice cream
While it’s true gelato is a sweet, creamy frozen dessert, three important qualities distinguish it from ice cream: texture, fat content, and serving temperature. Gelato is mixed slowly to create that silky, luxurious mouthfeel it is known for, while ice cream is mixed quickly to add air bubbles for a light, fluffy texture. Gelato is made with less cream, making it a lower-fat treat, and it is served at a warmer temperature than ice cream, allowing its vibrant flavors to dance across the tongue with joyful abandon.
Made from only the freshest natural, locally-sourced ingredients, Honeycream’s gelato is all that, and more.
The art and science of gelato
The process of creating authentic gelato involves a delicate balance of sugar, liquids, fats, and solid ingredients like fruit, chocolate, and nuts. It’s a skill best learned at the hands of a master,
like the Italian gelato maker the Meyers met through their Utah friend. Under his tutelage, the Meyers learned all they needed to know about how to balance ingredients and flavors to create the most delectable confection.
Making a batch is a multi-step process beginning with blending milk, cream, three types of sugar, and skim milk powder into a liquid concoction that is refrigerated and aged for a few hours. Next, flavorings are added, and the mixture is gently churned to create the unmistakable texture that makes gelato distinct.
Ultimately, the Meyers plan to offer a menu of about 18 flavors, depending on the season and the availability of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Following Honeycream on social media is the best way to stay up-to-date on the new delights and flavors on offer. Recent selections include the standard favorites – vanilla, salted caramel, and cookies and cream – along with some unique varieties such as plum, pistachio, hazelnut, and of course, their signature flavor, honeycream.
The birth of a business
After perfecting their gelato making skills, the Meyers turned their attention to the more practical matters of entrepreneurship, like a name for their fledgling business and a place for it to call home.
“We knew we wanted the name to have something to do with milk and honey,” Christie said. “Our youngest son, Jonah, raises bees, so honey had to be in there. We spent a lot of time staying up past our bedtime thinking about it, trying different combinations of words and working out what kind of name would help us create the atmosphere we wanted. Finally, it came to us. Honeycream.”
With the name settled and a business license and domain name procured, the Meyers set out to find the perfect home where their dream could flourish. They found it in one of the oldest buildings on Third Avenue.
“We saw the potential of the building, with its beautiful beams and towering windows,” Mike said. “We immediately wanted to pay homage to its past, and I knew Christie had a vision for what it could become. We wanted to do everything we could to bring back the historic character of the 1879 structure.”
The Meyers proceeded with renovations, taking out the tile floor and, much to their delight, discovering the original hardwood floor beneath. Months of painstaking work followed – installing new electrical, heating and cooling systems, purchasing specialized freezers and other equipment from Italy, finding just the right lighting, paint color, and cozy décor to not only revive the building but also to create a beautiful setting for customers to enjoy.
Finding – and making – community
The Meyers knew Rome was a special place from their first visit, but that truth came home to them as they worked to establish their new business.
“We quickly discovered that Rome is a close-knit community that takes care of its members,” Mike said. “From the beginning, local merchants all up and down Broad Street and along the side streets reached out, offering their support, encouragement, and even recommendations of local craftsmen to use for our renovations and products. Everyone’s been wonderful to help us realize our dream.”
A greater purpose
For the Meyers, their business is about more than a product, it’s about creating a special place for Romans to gather, relax, linger, talk, connect, and enjoy.
“We wanted to bring something special to Rome, a little taste of that European experience,” Mike said. “We hope Honeycream becomes a place where relationships can be built, where people can just embrace and enjoy the sweet life.”
If the comments and reviews on social media are any indicator, that hope has already been realized.
4 E 3rd Ave, Rome, Ga.
Open Thursday 11-9, Friday and Saturday 11- 11, and Sunday 12:30 – 5:30