Lush Gelato in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. Lush plans to expand to San Francisco's Nob Hill with a combined ice cream store and open kitchen.
Lush Gelato, which has stores in Oakland and Berkeley, plans to expand to San Francisco’s Nob Hill with a combined ice cream store and demonstration kitchen. Photo: e.t.

Lush Gelato, which was founded in the East Bay five years ago, is planning to expand to San Francisco.

Co-owner and gelato maker Federico Murtagh has launched a Kickstarter campaign to open a new ‘farm-to-cone’ store at1817 Polk Street in Nob Hill, where he’ll also have a demonstration kitchen.

“We want to show off how we make our gelato,” Murtagh said. “Most ice cream makers you know buy the mixture pre-made, then they flavor it and then they sell it. We make everything from scratch. We want to show all that process.”

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Lush Gelato’s Berkeley store. Lush was voted the best ice cream or gelato in Berkeley by Berkeleyside readers in 2011. Photo: Lance Knobel
in 2011. Photo: Lance Knobel

According to Murtagh, there’s nowhere in the Bay Area designed for day-to-day public viewing of ice cream or gelato production.

Lush Gelato was founded on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland in 2009 and opened a store in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto the following year. Berkeleyside readers, in a thoroughly non-scientific poll in 2011, voted Lush as the best ice cream or gelato in Berkeley. Since then, of course, new ice cream spots have opened, including Italian gelato store Caravaggio on Shattuck Avenue.

Murtagh is a self-taught gelataio. He came to the Bay Area in 2001 from his native Argentina to go to university. He met the Argentinean owner of Tango Gelato, who had just lost his ice cream maker, and Murtagh said he’d try to do the job.

“It took me a few years to figure things out,” he said. “Lots of experimentation.”

Together with the experimentation, Murtagh spoke to chefs, food chemists and read “very technical books” on ice cream. He also set out to replace factory ingredients like emulsifiers and powdered milk with local, natural products.

After honing his skills at Tango, Murtagh opened on his own on Piedmont Avenue in 2009, and then the following year in the upscale Epicurious Garden food court in the Gourmet Ghetto.

Lush Gelato started in Oakland, expanded to Berkeley, and now plans to move across the bay to San Francisco. Photo: Lush
Lush Gelato started in Oakland, expanded to Berkeley, and now plans to move across the bay to San Francisco. Photo: Lush Gelato

Lush has developed a reputation for tasty, adventurous flavors that Murtagh devises himself. There’s Yerena Farms Strawberry sorbetto, Bellwether Farms Ricotta Lemon Zest, Twin Girls Lemon sorbetto, and McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil & Salted Chocolate Chunks Fresh Mint Chip Gelato with spearmint from Happy Boy Farm & West African Forastero Chocolate (which must qualify as the world’s longest gelato name).

Murtagh says his personal favorites are Riverdog Farms Fresh Mint and Chocolate Chips, and Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc.

He sources many of his ingredients locally, using organic milk from Straus and Clover dairies for his ice cream base. Other local purveyors include Cowgirl Creamery, Yerena Farms, Bellwether Farms, and McEvoy Ranch.

Business at the two East Bay Lush stores has grown consistently every year, according to Murtagh, and they became profitable last year. The San Francisco store, he said, would increase production capacity, which he believes will strengthen the business in the long run.

Lush also sells wholesale, including to James Syhabout’s Box & Bells, Paula LeDuc Catering, and Vesta in Redwood City.

The Kickstarter campaign, which has 15 days to run, aims to raise $35,000. Murtagh said that if he doesn’t succeed with Kickstarter, “it will be more complicated” to open on Polk.

Caravaggio Italian gelato spot opens in Berkeley (11.19.13)
A little something: Where to find bite-sized treats (12.02.13)
The verdict is in: Berkeley’s best ice cream and gelato (07.27.11)
Lush Gelato in, Ciao Bella out in Epicurious Garden (04.15.10)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...