Creating gelato may be a craft, but Mario Lozanov approaches it with a scientific method.
An organic chemist turned culinary businessman, Lozanov creates interesting new flavors for his City Gelato brand, which is sold from carts across Baton Rouge.
“The whole idea of crafting something on your own … was appealing to me,” Lozanov said. “From my background of a scientist, I was always making something from scratch and always trying to make something new, making molecules from scratch is like formulating flavors from scratch.”
While his carts will always carry the routine strawberry, mango and chocolate gelato flavors, Lozanov regularly adds a few new creations. He made a cannoli flavor based on his favorite Italian dessert, a Sweet Potato Dream using Louisiana’s favorite tuber and an LSU Purple and Gold made with swirls of blueberry and mango.
His most off-the-wall experiments draw the most extreme foodies.
“Basil pesto was interesting,” Lozanov said. “It was not for everybody. It was interesting. Avocado gelato, only the weirdos bought. It was great to me, especially with honey and cinnamon.”
Born in Italy to a Bulgarian mother and Italian father, Lozanov and his mother moved to Bulgaria when he was a small child. While his mother was not a great cook, Lozanov said, she did make amazing desserts that she learned in Italy.
Showing promise in science, Lozanov came to the United States in 1996 to study organic chemistry at Wayne State University in Detroit, where his family had immigrated while Lozanov finished his undergraduate work in Europe.
He finished his doctoral work and was hired by the Albemarle Corporation in 2004. In 2012 he was laid off and chose to go into business on his own.
Lozanov didn’t want to work for corporations anymore, he said.
“I basically had zero voice, zero impact. I was working there. I was a number. I had a good paycheck,” he said. “At some point, I wanted to be connected with peoples’ communities and do something to affect everyday life.”
Interested in owning his own business, Lozanov managed a gelato shop near the north gates of LSU and planned to buy the business. But he decided the overhead was too high and chose to strike out on his own.
Last summer, he opened his mobile gelato carts, appearing at festivals and parks around East Baton Rouge Parish. At first, without a commercial kitchen, he bought his gelato from another shop.
Around Christmas 2013, Lozanov began working at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, which is a commercial kitchen at LSU that leases time to small food businesses. They provide access to a food scientist and experts in the field who help with all the issues of creating a commercial food, from creating a shelf- or freezer-stable product to completing the paperwork and permits needed to become a legal culinary business.
While Lozanov’s scientific background helps, food science is different from a chemistry lab. Figuring out the amount of flavor to create has been tricky.
“It seems like food science is easy,” Lozanov said. “I was creating molecules from scratch (as a chemist), but it is not easy. Nothing is easy.”
He plans to soon sell his gelato in stores using Louisiana-sourced milk, cream and sugar. He already uses local fruits in his products.
Lozanov says that gelato could become a competitor to more traditional ice cream. It often has fewer preservatives and less fat than ice cream because it has more milk and less cream, he said.
Peddling frozen treats from his three carts is hard work for Lozanov and his team of college students, especially during the fall and spring festival seasons. Selling directly to stores could be more profitable, but for now, he enjoys selling to the public.
“It’s not rocket science …,” he said. “I just want to have a better impact on quality of life.”