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The Working Life: Erin Casey

For the owner of Spoon on State Street, patience in opening a gelato shop leads to sweet success

Erin Casey opened Spoon, a State Street gelato shop, in April 2008, and has been going strong since. “Gelato is a treat people can justify buying,” she says. “It’s not that expensive and has a third of the calories of ice cream.”
Erin Casey opened Spoon, a State Street gelato shop, in April 2008, and has been going strong since. “Gelato is a treat people can justify buying,” she says. “It’s not that expensive and has a third of the calories of ice cream.”  (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

Many people dream of opening a charming local business. Erin Casey considered the options: A bagel shop required an early alarm. A burger joint would have her smelling like food all the time. But gelato offered a simple, lucrative, sweet-smelling solution.

The owner of Spoon, at 1222 State St. in Santa Barbara, says it’s the best decision she ever made.

Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Casey had several careers before opening the doors of Spoon. She worked in various industries, including health care, marketing and post-secondary schooling. Her last job was as a lab tech in Australia. While living abroad, she noticed the fanatical consumption of gelato and decided she, too, would like to try her hand at opening a shop.

Casey returned to California and scoured the larger cities between Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach looking for an available main street storefront where she could open her shop. Casey insists location is everything, and therefore she would only accept a shop on a main drag that didn’t already have something similar.

She waited five years before coming across her location at State and Victoria streets, which she considers perfect.

Spoon is open seven days a week, and you’ll find Casey running the store on six of them. She does it with a smile, and notes she’ll have the business paid off this spring — after only three years in operation.

“It’s the perfect business if you like interacting with the public,” Casey said. “I have good hours, deal with only a few vendors and it pays well. Also, people are usually pretty friendly because they are excited to be having the dessert.”

Customer traffic is largely walk-in as people are browsing shops on State Street or craving a little treat after catching a show at the nearby theaters. With the shop open until 10 p.m., guests often come in after dinner at nearby eateries.

Casey opened the 700-square-foot store in April 2008 — just as the recession was beginning to affect the masses. But it appears she chose a business that is at least somewhat recession proof.

“Gelato is a treat people can justify buying,” she said. “It’s not that expensive and has a third of the calories of ice cream.”

Casey recalls seeing a spike in the number of customers when the film Eat, Pray, Love showed Julia Roberts repeatedly consuming the tasty delight.

After sampling gelato from dozens of vendors, Casey found an award-winning Venetian named Alessondro Fontana, whom she hired immediately. Through a hot process, the gelato is made from pasteurized milk, eggs and sugar, along with the ingredient that flavors it. Casey said her shop makes its own chocolate and roasts and grinds its own nuts for those flavors.

Rotating more than 70 flavors, Casey gravitates toward ingredients that are in season and experiments with thematic tastes around the various holidays. During Santa Barbara Epicurean, she offered eight types of chocolate, and for Christmas, she has a refreshing peppermint. Her top sellers include chocolate chip, mint chip and hazelnut. For the more adventurous, she offers olive oil, rose and honey fig mascarpone.

While Casey loves the business, she said she has done next to nothing to market the fantastic treats she offers. She doesn’t have a Web site, nor is she on Facebook or Twitter, although she does plan to get wired in the new year.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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