Jersey + Co has Gelato Love for the Community
It was unseasonably warm for a Saturday in January. Temperatures rising past 60 degrees and just about everyone in Jersey City could be found outside. Brunch tables were hastily set up on sidewalks, couples walked hand in hand wearing sweatshirts or light jackets and dogs lavished in the extra-long walk around the neighborhood. The day was positively screaming for ice cream – or even better, gelato.
Sit, Snack and Stay Awhile
Jersey + Co Gelato sits in the West Side, on the corner of Mallory and Claremont Avenues, connected to a set of condo buildings. LeKendrick Shaw, one of Jersey + Co’s founding partners, opened early that beautiful Saturday not only to grant me the privilege of tasting nearly every flavor offering in the shop, but to share Jersey + Co’s captivating story of friendship and community.
At Jersey + Co, tables and chairs in colorful blues, oranges and greens along the side invite patrons to sit and stay, use the free wifi and, of course, sample their delicious product. In fact, the owners prefer that you take your time.
“With gelato it’s an experience,” LeKendrick explains. “Someone doesn’t just come in and say ‘Give me vanilla’ and they walk out. They want to know where’s the vanilla bean sourced from.”
A West Side Story
LeKendrick glows when speaking about Jersey City, especially of the West Side. Growing up in the Duncan Projects, so many places in the area conjure fond memories. Spending allowance money on pizza from Romano’s, cream sodas from the grocery store, trading Pokémon cards at the dugout, playing games in the arcade at Hudson Mall. As a teenager, his first job was attending the lockers at the local pool. This past August, LeKendrick was sworn in as a trustee on the Jersey City Board of Education. Though the original idea was to have a gelato truck, it is no surprise that Jersey + Co landed on the West Side at 55 Mallory Ave.
“I grew up around here and I really grew up watching the surroundings change and to be a part of that change and to have a social and economic impact, it means a lot to me,” says LeKendrick.
From a young age, LeKendrick proved to be a hard worker with an entrepreneurial spirit. As early as the seventh grade, he concocted homemade candy bars to sell to classmates, friends and family. He opened two different retail businesses in Jersey City, Metro Capz and Gloire, which sold sports apparel and custom printed clothing. As a student at New Jersey City University, LeKendrick joined the Student Investment Management Group, a club that allowed students to invest money donated to the university in the stock market. There as an analyst, LeKendrick met his friend and future business partner, Peter Jose, who was president of the club. LeKendrick would eventually run for city council with help from Peter on the campaign in 2016. Though LeKendrick did not win, he and Peter discovered how seamlessly they worked together.
From Stocks to Scoops
Though he and LeKendrick met in a finance club, Peter decided to pursue a culinary education and traveled all the way to Italy to learn regional cooking. There he became fascinated by gelato and later returned to refine his education in the frozen delicacy. Peter approached LeKendrick to be an indirect investor in his gelato truck dream. But after one taste, LeKendrick knew he wanted to be all in for this venture.
“What drew me in was the taste of the product,” LeKendrick marveled. “It’s just … immaculate. You can’t get it elsewhere – it can’t be replicated. Once I tasted it, I was like alright, I can’t just be a passive investor in this.”
Reaching Back to Grow the Community
LeKendrick and Peter reinvest in the community by hiring and mentoring local teens, an initiative called #ProjectKidTurnsSuccess. Some of the kids have been around for the entire time Jersey + Co has been open and are about to graduate high school. Watching them grow and fostering the mentality that dreams and success can be reached is meaningful and rewarding to the owners.
“[Growing up in Duncan Projects] turned me into who I am today and it enabled me to see things from a perspective of reaching back to help people when they need it most and always be sure to pay it forward,” explains LeKendrick.
Local Shop with International Flavor
But a great backstory, cute decor and sense of community doesn’t necessarily sell gelato. The product speaks for itself: creamy, not overly sweet, packed with flavor and made fresh daily. Though you can find traditional Italian flavors such as stracciatella (essentially chocolate chip), tiramisu (which sells out each shift), and amarena (a cherry swirl), Peter is playful with his flavors. He pays homage to his Filipino community with the Ube flavor, but also experiments with other cultures: Dulce de Leche, Matcha, Speculoos and Horchata have all appeared as options.
“We go to our customers and ask them for suggestions or their culture, what they’re used to eating and what their palates call for,” says LeKendrick of their flavor inspirations. The menu varies, but the favorite staples, such as tiramisu and pistachio remain constant. Also accommodating of varying diets, Jersey + Co has sugar free options and several non-dairy flavors, sorbets that vary by season such as Mango, Pineapple and Frutti di Bosco (mixed berry).
Did you know pistachio ice cream isn’t meant to be green? When LeKendrick told me his (and many customers’) favorite flavor was pistachio, I assumed I’d be tasting the rich green gelato standing out in the freezer. I was mistaken and that was actually matcha. Jersey + Co thrives in authenticity and opts to maintain the flavor’s natural hue, a light beige. Taking it one step further, they keep the flavor as authentic as possible when crafting their flavors from importing the pistachio nuts directly from Italy to buying ube from the Filipino grocery in the neighborhood. You can trust that what you are eating there is real.
LeKendrick proudly served me taste after taste of gelato, using my commentary to drive the next sample I tasted. I love that this is not the special treatment, but rather each customer who walks in receives this level of care. My favorite was the bright purple ube, but there wasn’t enough left for an entire serving. I ‘settled’ on a scoop each of amarena and strawberry cheesecake. Though it was a freakishly warm day on my first visit to Jersey + Co Gelato, I certainly won’t be waiting for warm weather before I visit again.