Coolato Gelato Closes (Will It Return?)

Coolato Gelato, 524 South Gay Street, Knoxville, November 2018

The rumors have been swirling for several weeks. There was an Instagram post saying Coolato Gelato was closing. Then it was gone. There was a Facebook post saying Coolato Gelato was closing. Then there wasn’t. The lights are turned off and they are not currently open.

I met with co-owner Julianna Texada to get the details. She and her husband, John, purchased the business in July 2017. The 527 South Gay Street business was opened by Allen and Cherryl Meuret in 2009 and operated by the couple until they sold it to the Texadas.

The couple had introduced a number of changes, hiring a store manager, executive chef and two pastry chefs. They planned to grow the catering portion and had recently re-thought their menu with an eye toward focusing on the sweet side and reducing the savory side. They had redecorated the exterior and interior and, by the end, employed about twenty people, mostly part-time college students.

Julianna laughed as she remembered that her husband had to leave the hospital where she was giving birth in order to close on the business. She says they didn’t make changes at first, waiting to get to know the business, which she said was “overwhelming.” As he has a very demanding career, she ran the business for a while, then got help and ultimately returned to running it herself. She notes that it’s hard running a business alone and the fact that she had a newborn at home divided her attention.

She said business was very cyclical and acknowledges they may have tried to do too much and strayed from what people wanted. They had exotic flavors, but some favorites were missing, for example. She does feel the best direction for the business is a focus on the sweet side and on catering.

The spot, she says, was great and tough. Being between the Tennessee Theatre and the Regal Theaters was great for business when they let out and customers streamed past the doors, often stepping inside. One difficulty of the location is that being in the center of Gay Street’s most busy area isn’t cheap.

They though that when the Hyatt Place opened they might see a bump in business, but it didn’t seem to materialize. They offered lunch items such as sandwiches and soups, but that business diminished. Since they took over ownership, two additional ice cream shops opened in Kilwins and Cruze Farm and the competition made a significant dent.

Coolato Gelato, 524 South Gay Street, Knoxville, November 2018

It’s possible that as the newness wore off the other spots, business might have evened out a bit, but faced with discouraging numbers and the advent of cold weather, which is never good news for an ice cream shop, the decision was made to close. The fits and starts obvious on social media were due to last minute hopes the business might be bought by someone who could bring it back to profitability. After some ups and downs, the decision was made that they simply could wait no longer.

A look at the sign posted in the door gives a glimmer of hope that something might, yet, be worked out under new ownership. For now, ice cream options have been reduced to three and none of them are Italian ice cream. Stay tuned and, of course, if I learn anything encouraging, I’ll let you know.

Comments

  1. The environment here after the new owners took over was very off putting. I went in once and never went back. The chef was creepy and condescending to the girls working the front and very publicly criticized their work in an embarrassing way. The old workers from the previous owners also gave the place a more inviting feel. It just felt like it was getting old and not well taken care of when the new owners took over.

  2. It doesn’t seem like a very well-planned venture from the beginning, to me. Juggling a new baby/new business, when your partner has a demanding job? Hmm. Then, observing how the business achieved it’s prior success was ‘overwhelming’?? Hmm. Doesn’t seem like it was ‘broke’, as most of the commenters have stated- so ‘fixing it’ didn’t appear to even be in order. Knowing the high rent in advance, and researching the previous owners financials from sales should have been a huge clue in what changes needed to be made, if any, well in advance of purchase. It’s hard to empathize with people who have obviously not done their homework.

  3. Does anyone remember that the Meurets early on hired UT voice students who sang opera as they worked? That was short-lived, but it showed the flair Allen & Cherryl had. I agree that the former atmosphere was lost and we stopped going. [Plus I actually don’t care for gelato and it was a great lunch stop for me.]

  4. The truth is for any business that lasts past 10 years downtown and doesn’t own the building they are in is that rent becomes too high eventually. All business models have a plateau and by year 10 they definitely hit it. New ownership combined with “evolving” the brand, which regarding the actual gelato wasn’t necessary because it was incredible for many years, is a risky proposition when there are three other busy dessert shops in a one-block radius.

    I love Cruze Dairy Farms when I wanted soft serve, and I love the Pharmacy for the convenience (I live in the Phoenix) and some of their flavors. However, I’ll miss the ability to get Straciatella like I’m back in Italy.

  5. I loved the soup, sandwich, and macaroon platters the new owners offered for lunch. Went there multiple times earlier in the year with my wife as our new favorite casual lunch spot, but then they stopped offering the savory items entirely. I brought my whole wife’s family one time for lunch and was so disappointed there was no lunch anymore. I hope the new owners will bring back this euro-style cafe including sweet, savory, and coffee. There was nothing else like it downtown for a quick, casual, delicious lunch and treat.

  6. Agreed on the post above. We as a downtown business used to eat there all the time, until ownership changed and the small changes to the food changed was not good. We gave it multiple tries, but no one liked the changes. Sad, but we completely stopped ordering.

  7. Coolato was one of my very favorite spots. I introduced many of my family members & friends to it. I also loved to go alone and sit at a table in one of the windows & enjoy a treat & people watch. My husband & I watched the Christmas parade from one of those tables. When the new owners purchased it & announced some of the changes such as a chocolatier & pastry chef, I was excited but the changes ended up being drastic & too far of a departure from the original. When I visited afterwards, the whole former atmosphere was gone. So I stopped. For now, I’ll enjoy the memories & one of the signs I obtained when they remodeled & hope that something as good as the original version returns.

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