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Activator Update: Maria Liliana Biondo of uGOgelato


Maria Liliana Biondo

Owner, uGOgelato - Plant-Based & Traditional Artisan Gelato https://ugogelato.com 




 

As a young girl, Maria Biondo grew up loving the time she spent with her father. As it turns out, that time together also taught her some of the skills she now uses to run uGOgelato in Over-the-Rhine. 


“I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and raised there, but my father is Sicilian and that's why I learned how to make the gelato. We are making family recipes, and we bring main ingredients from Sicily like the pistachio and almond to be able to replicate the recipes that we have,” says Biondo, owner of uGOgelato. “Our main purpose is to keep family traditions going.”


The support she has received from Main Street Ventures (MSV) has been a huge part of keeping those traditions alive. 


“The past two years have been amazing because this grant not only has helped us to get the funds we needed to initially open and operate the business, but also – and I think this key – it’s helped us connect with other people in the city that are on the same entrepreneurial path that we are,” says Biondo of the $30,000 Leap Grant she received from MSV in 2022. “MSV is very welcoming when you need information; they are always there for you. If I have a question, I can ask them like if they know someone who knows the answer or if there’s a company I should contact … They're very open and available all the time.”


Opening in April 2022, uGOgelato (pronounced “Hugo” like Biondo’s husband’s first name) specializes in the art of frozen desserts, a practice Biondo – the head “Gelato Chef” – originally turned into a business after moving to the U.S. and settling in Miami, Florida. The name uGOgelato also carries a playful meaning; it rhymes with the phrase “as you go party, you go swimming, you go gelato,” reflecting the lively and enjoyable atmosphere that the gelateria aims to provide."


When that business was forced to close, a friend told Biondo and her co-founder/husband about a city undergoing a rebirth where they thought the couple could start anew: Cincinnati. Once in the Queen City, Biondo recalls meeting several people who told her about “this funding for minority and women-owned business.” Doing some research online, she discovered that they were referencing MSV.


Applying for and receiving the grant, Biondo says the funds have helped the company with both expanding its equipment via the purchase of coffee and ice machines as well as exterior upgrades including new signage. That has allowed her business to thrive, helping make patrons familiar with both their product and its benefits. 


“The main difference between ice cream and gelato is that in ice cream, the main ingredient is heavy cream while in the latter you can use milk, water or any vegan milk. That also impacts the fat content and makes the product healthier,” she says. “Gelato, in Italy, is considered like a meal and somewhat healthy … We see gelato as an experience, as a family reunion or an opportunity to have a wonderful time with your friends, gathering together and walking around the city. That’s why our location and customers have been key (to our success).”


Being recognized by your peers as one of the best doesn’t hurt, either. The Gelato Festival World Masters competition named Biondo a winner at its Sept. 2023 semifinal in Los Angeles. Biondo won the honor for “Mandorland,” a gelato created from three different types of almonds finished with a blood orange glaze, Venezuelan chocolate and almond nougat for a bold, vegan treat. The win means Biondo will compete in the North American Final in 2025 with a win then securing her spot in the final international competition.


While the outcome of that competition remains to be seen, Biondo says any aspiring entrepreneur looking for a winning team of support and mentorship would be wise to look towards Main Street Ventures.


“We are very grateful for the work of MSV. I know (Funding & Impact Director) Brianna (Dzuricsko) and (Director of Engagement) Abby (Ober) are great human beings and very helpful in all aspects of startups and entrepreneurship,” she says. “They are a great company to be connected with and work with.”


She has similar feelings about the Greater Cincinnati region when it comes to a place where entrepreneurs can thrive. 


“Cincinnati has been amazing. Our customers are the best. My five team members tell me all the time that they haven't worked in a place where customers are so nice and happy,” Biondo says.” Part of that is that we share our happiness for gelato and that reflects in our team members as well as our customers. We are sincerely very happy with everything we have learned since we moved here.”









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