Medzo Gelato gives Tacoma the scoop on Italian treat

By Drew Dotson, For the Tacoma Daily Index

As temperatures rise, Medzo Gelato is serving the Italian frozen dessert for its second summer in Tacoma.

Fareed and Jennifer Al-Abboud opened the gelateria on Tacoma Avenue in spring of 2023, but the couple have been making gelato for more than a decade now. Jennifer Al-Abboud is finishing up a memoir detailing their journey and the obstacles they have faced along the way.

“It kind of recounts how it all started,” Jennifer Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud said she first encountered gelato in high school in an Italian cafe in Spokane where her friend worked, but her love for the frozen dessert grew when she visited its country of origin.

“When I studied abroad, I traveled through Italy and fell in love with gelato, just like everybody does when they travel to Italy,” Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud recounted living and working as a teacher in Dubai with her husband, Fareed, and residing above a gelateria in Dubai. There she befriended the owner and told him that it was one of her dreams to open a gelato shop.

“He said, ‘Well, I’ll teach you how to make it on your last day in Dubai,’” Al-Abboud said.

When she returned home, the threat of teacher layoffs motivated her to open the gelato shop of her dreams.

“We actually cashed in our retirement funds and opened our business. That was 11 years ago,” Al-Abboud said. “Our first shop was on Bainbridge Island and we opened as Gelarto.”

They later sold the business and began making their own gelato at Medzo Gelato in 2018 in Burien, where they stayed for five years.

Al-Abboud said they then went to Canada due to political reasons.

“We actually were fully invested in emigrating to Canada. We had sold our Burien location,” Al-Abboud said. “We came back when the developer didn’t deliver on the space we were buying. We had a tumultuous ride there and returned knowing that Tacoma would be our go to if we came back to the U.S.”

Al-Abboud said she graduated from the University of Puget Sound and was familiar with the city.

“It used to be my stomping ground and we’ve always liked Tacoma,” Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud said they had been searching for more than a year for a permanent space when they opened their current location.

“We absolutely love Tacoma. It has surprised us in all the right ways. It was a long search and we ended up in the Tacoma Ave. space which originally scared us because there had been some criminal activity from an encampment that was there during Covid,” Al-Abboud said. “It drove out two of the commercial tenants before us. We circled around that spot for three months before going back to it.”

Al-Abboud said they have amazing landlords and supportive neighbors and community in their new space.

“We say our shop home found us because we resisted that location and ended up going there when we ran out of options and it was the best thing that ever could have happened to us,” Al-Abboud said.

Medzo Gelato is the only gelato shop in Tacoma and Al-Abboud said they had been eyeing Tacoma for a potential location for a while.

“In 2018, when we were looking for a second location and looked and tried to find a spot in Tacoma, but we just kept running into dead ends,” Al-Abboud said. “We knew there was a niche to be filled in Tacoma and we wanted to fill it, but we just couldn’t find any real estate. That’s a problem for small businesses that need small spaces because they are hard to come by.”

Medzo Gelato is also one of the only places to get gelato made from scratch, according to Al-Abboud.

“We make our gelato from scratch, one pan at a time, with natural ingredients. We don’t use any base mix,” Al-Abboud said. “Because it’s made from scratch, it’s always fresh and we replenish it as we need it.”

Al-Abboud said they use the direct method in making their gelato while others start with a base and add flavors to it.

“We are the only place that I know of that uses the direct method,” Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud said they learned this method in Bologna, Italy, from an instructor who was a former pastry chef for Pope Benedict.

“It was intense, but very informative,” Jennifer Al-Abboud said. “Then we spent several months developing our own recipes after that. Gelato is both a science and an art.”

Al-Abboud said they created their own versions of classic flavors, such as pistachio and hazelnut, and some unique flavors of their own such as Grit City Gold, a chocolate gelato with Almond Roca.

Al-Abboud’s upcoming book, “The Scoop on Mom and Pop” is about navigating the challenges of moving multiple times, dealing with the pandemic as a small business and moving to Canada because of the divisive political climate, according to Al-Abboud.

“It’s about trying to be a part of a positive solution that focuses on unity and what we have in common rather than what divides us,” Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud is ready to turn the book over to an editor and plans to self-publish the book.

“We identified some patterns of policies and practices that were harmful to the smallest small businesses, owner-operated businesses, that were left out during the first stimulus package. Mom and Pop’s were overlooked,” Al-Abboud said.

Al-Abboud said this experience started a desire to do advocacy work for small businesses.

“I really have a desire to get the word out about the obstacles small businesses, family-owned and operated businesses, face and the unique challenges for them,” Al-Abboud said. “We as consumers, community members and decision-makers in some cases can ensure the survival of those businesses that are integral to our neighborhood and communities.”

Al-Abboud said one major problem that concerns her and other small businesses is crime and is an overarching theme in her upcoming book.

“It’s not just Tacoma, it’s everywhere,” Al-Abboud said. “It really raises concerns for our safety and security and it’s at the forefront of small-business owners’ minds: safety, property damage and the greater expense of trying to protect their businesses.”

Medzo Gelato is located at 612-B Tacoma Ave. S.