Our Meet the Merchant series features Q&As with real-world Clover merchants. Read our full catalog for innovative ideas and real-life stories of small businesses in action.
In this installment, we hear from Hussein Saad, Zeinab Cherkaoui, and Yousef Khalaf, the owners of La Gelati in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. La Gelati offers homemade ashta, a smooth hand-pulled ice cream from the Middle East, along with crepes, waffles, boba tea, and more. They share how they brought one of their favorite desserts to the U.S., built a loyal following, and found a way to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clover: Hi Hussein, Zeinab, and Yousef. It’s a pleasure to speak with you today. Can you tell us a little bit about La Gelati?Hussein Saad: We opened La Gelati in 2017. We make ashta. It’s a very, very old ice cream tradition that started in what is now Syria. Our product is unlike most ice cream shops because our ashta is handmade. We don’t use a machine. Usually you don’t see ice cream stretched, but that’s what creates the signature texture of ashta. That’s why we are popular. Everyone loves it, and for many of our customers, it brings up memories of times in other countries and cultures. It’s pretty rare to find ashta in the U.S., so people come from far and wide to visit us. We’ve been so successful that now we also sell our ice cream in more than 30 retail locations.
Clover: What is the connection between ashta and gelato.Zeinab Cherkaoui: Well you know gelato is different from regular ice cream. It’s smoother and it has a finer taste to it. That’s how ashta is. It’s smooth and closer to gelato than traditional American ice cream.
Clover: It sounds delicious. You sell more than just ashta, though. How did you decide to expand your menu?Yousef Khalaf: We wanted to attract families and groups of all sorts. Sometimes you’re not in the mood for ice cream, so we wanted everyone to have options. We added crepes, smoothies, and waffles. And even with our ice cream, there are a lot of choices to make. We sell ashta, Italian ice, soft-serve, frozen yogurt, and ice cream rolls. We started making bubble tea, as well. Then we got brave and started experimenting with new flavors and combinations. One of our biggest hits has been Red Bull Boba, since it gives people energy but also makes for a delicious snack. We know that other stores have noticed the popularity since we’re seeing it offered elsewhere now, but we were definitely the first to put those together.
Clover: How did you find your customer base in Dearborn Heights?Cherkaoui: Between Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, there’s a very large Arab population. It’s a mix of Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, and more, but it was easy to appeal to them with this product.
Once we were open, we focused on advertising more. We also set up sample tables so people could try our ashta. That’s when all different kinds of people started coming in.
Clover: Did I hear correctly that you’re opening up a second location?Cherkaoui: Yes! We’re opening our second store this summer, and Clover has been a big help in that, too.
Clover: Tell us about how you came to use Clover for your point of sale system.Khalaf: We started with a different POS system because we wanted something simple. But with our menu getting bigger and bigger, a salesman for Clover came and gave us a demonstration. He helped us understand it could do so much more for us than processing payments, we were excited to give it a shot! We learned that making changes to our menu was much easier than we imagined, and we were immediately happy with it.
Saad: Once we started getting busier, we decided to try Online Ordering. Our store is very small and things were getting really busy. Our Clover sales representative introduced us to Clover Online Ordering. Customers put in their order wherever they are, and by the time they make it to the store it’s waiting for them. They like it because they don’t have to wait in line, and we love how it keeps our lines moving. Obviously, since the pandemic hit, it’s been even more helpful than we could have imagined. It’s been a very easy way for us to minimize contact and keep our customers happy. Clover is one of the most helpful tools we’ve had to help our business grow.
Clover: We’re so glad it’s working for you! Do you use other apps from Clover as well?Saad: Yes. We use Clover Rewards and we love it. When customers purchase 10 orders with us, they can order something for free. Our guests love it. We know most of our customers now. They come in weekly, some even daily! Since we started using Clover Rewards, we started to see more diverse faces, not just our Arab friends.
We also use an app called Shifts that serves as our timeclock. It’s made it very easy. Workers can just clock in and out, and at the end of the week, we can see how many hours they worked. That saves us time on payroll, too.
Clover: How has the pandemic changed your business?Saad: We closed for a week to clean everything to the highest possible standard. I need to make sure all my employees and customers are safe. We switched to curbside pickup only, but it made it difficult if customers weren’t using Online Ordering. Our sales rep told us about the Clover Flex, the handheld device we could use curbside or in the store, and it was a great suggestion. It’s probably the most useful tool we’ve gotten from Clover.
Clover: Have you seen a drop in orders?Cherkaoui: No, it’s actually been busier, which is surprising, but we’re happy about it. People are excited to have treats and comforts, and our ashta is great for putting smiles on faces.
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