Membership Spotlight – IL Gelato Cafe
IL Gelato Cafe – Bringing “la dolce vita” to Haleiwa, one world-class scoop at a time… Dirk Koeppenkastrop and his wife, Nicole Lueker, founded IL Gelato Hawaii to combine their passion for Hawaii and the fine Italian ice cream known as gelato. The couple first opened their business for wholesale and catering operations in Honolulu in 2010. Since then they have added a retail operation opened in 2013 in the Kahala Mall and a restaurant opened last year in the North Shore Marketplace next to Cholo’s.
The Haleiwa location is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekend hours often extend to 10 p.m. since Cholo’s customers usually wander next door for an enticing dessert treat. The North Shore location also serves freshly baked cones and coppas (Italian sundaes) along with a broad gelateria style menu including Italian coffee, smoothies, acai and pitaya bowls, Belgian waffles and crepes. Why choose a North Shore location?
The couple holds Haleiwa dear to their hearts. Twenty seven years ago, they married on Pupukea Beach. While living in the Honolulu area in the 80’s and 90’s, they’d travel to the North Shore most weekends and beyond so Dirk could pursue his passion for surfing and kite surfing at Mokuleia Beach Park and Laniakea. They’d regularly enjoyed gourmet coffee at the Coffee Gallery, a favorite spot. So when the location nearby at the North Shore Marketplace became available, they jumped at the opportunity. Because of the area’s romance and emotional draw, Dirk hopes to eventually live on the North Shore, at least part of the time.
The business, however, keeps the couple extremely busy. After adding their restaurant in Haleiwa, they now work two retail, one wholesale and one catering operation on Oahu. IL Gelato supplies its gelato wholesale to hotels, restaurants, gelato bars and coffee shops. It uses local farmers and suppliers in order to support the local economy and the “farm to table” movement in Hawaii. But, according to Dirk, it’s the Haleiwa restaurant that’s the most fun.
Because his classic Italian gelato machine here is smaller than the ones he uses in town for wholesaling, he has the opportunity to experiment in full view at the front of his restaurant. “The development (of gelato) is very manipulative,” says Dirk, “I make smaller batches here and I work with a paddle using a variety of flavors and variations. Whenever I make gelato, there is always a long line (of customers.)” As a graduate of University of Hawaii with a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, he has a solid knowledge of experimentation. “Making gelato is all chemistry!” according to Dirk. In 1998 the couple returned to Munich, Germany, to raise their family and Dirk ended up working his way into higher administration at a large corporation.
However, he had a friend who had a gelato business in Berlin, which got him hooked. He studied the Italian art of gelato making at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy, and later trained with “world champion” gelato makers in Europe. With his know-how and experience, Dirk earned a spot as team captain and gelato maker of Culinary Gelato Team USA in 2014 and 2016. Most recently, Team USA honors included top spot in the Ice Carving discipline and 3rd place in the Mystery Box Gelato Challenge. The team had a number of fourth and fifth places and overall placed seventh.
Indeed, Dirk’s scientific background and fervor bring gelato to a whole new level of indulgence. But that’s the whole idea. The mission of IL Gelato is, “…to make people happy by serving great tasting and natural gelato. With our gelato, we want to introduce ‘slow food’ as well as bring the joy of ‘la dolce vita’ to Hawaii.” Dirk Koeppenkastrop at his Italian gelato machine.