New gelato space 'Blossoms' near historic downtown restaurant

Local real estate agent and city councilwoman Jennifer Pharr was showing property around town Monday afternoon to a couple returning to Charleston after living in North Carolina.

“One of the questions they asked me was about the old Blossom and if it was reopening,” Pharr said. “I was so excited to be able to say: Wait until you see it now!”

Just a few hours later, Pharr was one of dozens of people on hand to witness the grand opening of a new gelato shop and Italian market on Hale Street that is breathing new life into that iconic Blossom Dairy space, and helping its owner realize a lifelong dream.

“I remember growing up in a family business where people would just walk into my grandfather’s beer garden in Randolph County, head straight to the fridge in the back and grab themselves a drink,” Kim Rossi said, before cutting the ribbon on her own family business.

“I have such fond memories of working there, just being around friends and working with family. It was always a dream of mine to have something like that of my own someday.”

That day is now with the official opening of Stella’s Gelateria Café and Boutique, a new shop at 202 Hale St. featuring artisanal gelatos, premium olive oils, more than 30 different balsamic vinegars and specialty food products.

The gelatos, oils and vinegars are free to sample — sometimes in exotic combinations — and there’s also coffee, flavored drinks, New York bagels and other light fare, including local pepperoni rolls from Kristi Ann’s Bakery that can be sprinkled with garlic and basil or drizzled with Tuscan herb olive oil.

The café’s concept is also based on a longtime dream.

“I’ve always loved those specialty markets where you can just go in, see people you know and have a nice selection of products to pick up for a great meal that evening,” Rossi said. “Then I missed a train once and ended up stumbling upon a gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop that I fell in love with.”

She immediately thought “this is something Charleston doesn’t have, but should.” So she decided to bring it here, picking up different ideas from places she’s been to create the kind of place she wanted to see in her own city.

And the name?

Rossi wanted a simple Italian word that meant something special and was easy to say and remember. Her daughter, Emma, eventually suggested Stella, which means “star” in Italian, and designed a logo showing stars forming part of the letter S.

“That’s the logo we’re using today,” she said. “Then we later remembered Emma had a great-great-grandmother named Stella, which made the family connection even more special.”

“Special” is also a word used to describe the products Stella’s offers. While the gelato, oils and vinegars aren’t made locally, Rossi assures they’re all very carefully sourced from all over.

“Oh yeah, I taste them all first,” she said with a laugh. “I want to make sure we’re only offering things that I love and that taste good to me.”

Those on hand for the ribbon-cutting Monday — which was also Rossi’s birthday — enjoyed the fruits of her tasting labor. They sampled scoops of blackberry cabernet sorbet and gelato flavors like dark chocolate, pistachio, Amaretto black cherry and lemon pie — the latter drizzled with blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar in a combination that is quickly becoming a signature offering.

And there are more food options on the way.

“We’re gradually adding one item at a time, and making sure we can implement it successfully before adding the next,” she explained. “We brought in pepperoni rolls over the summer, which have been very popular. We recently added bagels from New York. Next will be a soup of the day and then grab-and-go salads.”

Combine the addition of expanded food offerings with the café’s location — connected by a short hallway to the Blossom space, which Rossi is now leasing as part of Stella’s — and rumors have been flying about a possible new full-scale restaurant on the way.

“Oh, no,” Rossi clarified, “we are not Blossom Dairy and aren’t trying to be.”

In fact, she said, her original plans didn’t call for using Blossom at all.

“But once we moved into the Hale Street space where Mission Savvy used to be and started setting up, we quickly ran into roadblocks,” she said. “We soon realized we just didn’t have enough space to offer everything we wanted to offer, do everything we wanted to do.”

Soon afterward she learned that the Blossom space had become available for lease, so “we took a leap of faith” and snatched it up. That space has since been decorated and is being used as a “Stella’s Back Room” of sorts.

Strung with festive lights and filled with colorful chairs, Blossom now offers additional café seating, can be rented out for private gatherings, has hosted occasional live music on Friday nights and will be utilized for larger coffee, olive oil and balsamic tastings.

“We love that space and definitely want the public to enjoy it as much as they can,” she added. “There are more things we can do with it, but trying to replace the Blossom isn’t one of them.”

Still, many around town are excited to once again see activity inside one of the city’s most cherished locations — the original site of a mid-1900s soda fountain and, in more modern times, a sought-after restaurant run by the late Bill Sohovich before he opened Soho’s inside Capitol Market.

The original Blossom closed in 2010. Restaurateurs Tim and Valerie Street reopened a restaurant in the space in 2015, but closed it a year later, citing a lack of business.

“Small, unique businesses like this give our city such a cool vibe,” said Susie Salisbury, vice president of community development for the Charleston Area Alliance. She was one of the guests at Monday’s grand opening and said the Alliance looks forward to working with Stella’s through events like monthly ArtWalks.

“I’m so thrilled for Kim Rossi,” added Pharr, the real estate agent who was asked about Blossom by the returning couple. “She’s following a passion and utilizing the iconic Blossom space in such a unique way.”

“My friend Chuck Hamsher [co-owner of Purple Moon] has started distributing these buttons that say ‘Great Things Are Happening in Charleston!’ I think he’s right!”

Stella’s current summer hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Future plans include opening for lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday as well. For information, call 304-881-2600 or visit “Stella’s Gelateria Café and Boutique” on Facebook.

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by email at wvfoodguy@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook as “WV Food Guy” and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WVFoodGuy.”

FUNERALS FOR TODAY 11/12/19

Adkins, Tressa - 6 p.m., Bethel Baptist Church, Spring Hill.

Angel, Larry - 1 p.m., St. Albans Church of the Nazarene, St. Albans.

Brown, Clara - Noon, Jackson County Memory Gardens, Cottageville.

Conley, Billy - 6 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Ellis, Emert - 11 a.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Green, Judy - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Hackney, Teddy - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Hager, Naomi - 1 p.m., Montgomery Memorial Park Chapel, London.

Higginbotham, Alice - 2 p.m., First Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Hill, Peggy - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Hunter, Lauria - 1 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Lewis, James - 11 a.m., Buffalo Memorial Park, Buffalo.

Mull, Melanie - 3 p.m., McGhee - Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Radford, David - 11 a.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Shingleton, Carole - 11 a.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Sigman Sr., Ralph - Noon, Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Snyder, Jeffrey - 1 p.m., Leavitt Funeral Home, Parkersburg.

Spaulding, Gladys - 11 a.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Stone, Judith - 2 p.m., Wilcoxen Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Taylor, Naomi - 1 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.

Webb, Tommy - 7 p.m., Loudendale Freewill Baptist Church, Charleston.

Williams, Jennie - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.