Interabled Couple Moves to Italy to Open Inclusive Gelato Shop

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By Tiffiny Carlson, Executive Director of SPINALpedia

Life can be full of adventures if you know how to create them, and Nicole and Filippo rank among the best SCI adventurers we’ve seen yet. After meeting and falling in love, they decided to make their dreams a reality but it required a huge life change – moving to Italy, or back to Italy in Filippo’s case. Now a fully open gelato shop after years of planning, they want their accessible and inclusive gelato shop to become a popular spot for anyone who visits the north of Italy and loves gelato. Read all about them below.


Adaptive Surfing Plays Matchmaker

Growing up in Reggio Emilia, a city located between Milan and Bologna, Filippo was an avid water polo player in his teens. When he was 17 years old after leaving a water polo training session, he was hit by a car causing him to fall into the opposite lane. “Another car was driving in the opposite direction hit me,” he describes. “It was a hit and run. The driver of the car who rear-ended my bike in the first place did not stop.”

After waking up in the hospital, Filippo didn’t remember anything about the crash. “I had two surgeries within a couple of weeks; the first one to stabilize my vitals and the second one to stabilize my spine. As a result of the crash, I was paralyzed from my waist down at T5-6 level.”

After rehabilitation and returning back to everyday life, Filippo was hired by Landi Renzo, an Italian natural gas company, who sent him to Los Angeles, California to work as a manager. It was while living in California where he met Nicole, who was working as a recreational therapist. “When a colleague told me that his girlfriend was volunteering at a surfing event where the athletes were people in wheelchairs, I asked to join the event right away. I couldn’t believe it was possible to surf after a spinal cord injury.”

It was at a surfing event put on by Life Rolls On at Huntington Beach where he met Nicole. “She was attending as a volunteer. We became friends, started seeing each other outside of these events and we haven’t separated since.” And in 2021, they decided to move to Italy, back to Filippo’s hometown, to do something completely out of the box – open a gelato shop. But not just any gelato shop; a fully accessible and inclusive gelato shop where Filippo could make the gelato himself and Nicole could work the front of the house.

Gelato Dreams Come True

Making gelato as a business investment was an easy choice for the couple. “Both Nicole and I have always been passionate about food and we dreamed about having our own small shop. We picked gelato because it’s a type of food that we both love, it’s a healthy and refreshing dessert and it’s a typical Italian product that is appreciated all over the world. We thought it was a good product to enter the food business.”

But after arriving in Filippo’s hometown, they discovered there were no properties that suited their needs. “During our research we were not able to find a gelato shop that had both a wheelchair accessible food lab and accessible gelato machines that can be operated by sitting in a chair. For example, there are gelato machines that are 5ft tall and can only be operated standing and there are machines that are on the ground and they require you to bend over to reach inside which can only be done by a standing person.”

So they decided to build an accessible “gelato lab” completely from scratch. “We designed it in a way that it is easy for someone in a wheelchair to move around and under the tables, access to refrigerators and freezers, reach utensils, and operate the machines to make gelato. It took some time to find the right suppliers but we realized that the majority of the equipment we needed was already available on the market.”

To make the front of the gelato shop accessible, they had custom tables made for easy roll-under access, as well installed automatic doors on the front entrance, made it step-free and made sure there were no tight spaces inside the shop. “This might sound as a normal environment for an American business but it is not the case in the city center of an old Italian town where streets are made with cobblestones and not many shops are wheelchair accessible.

It took them longer than expected however to get their shop – Spatolata – up and running. “The months leading up to the opening were stressful because there were many delays due to setbacks with the construction works, which is why the opening day (October 2023) was gratifying and exciting at the same time; our first milestone.”

But simply making the shop physically accessible wasn’t their only goal. “That’s how the idea of our inclusive gelato shop was born so that other people in similar conditions could join us.” After opening Spatolata in October 2023, they hired a local high school graduate with autism named Matteo to work at the shop. “He is a great help in making and serving gelato and many of our customers love him. We look forward to adding more employees like Matteo in the summer when the work is expected to increase.” And for those who visit their gelato shop, they plan on offering accessible gelato-making classes in both English & Italian.

They’re also looking forward to showcasing their unique take on gelato flavors. “We like to experiment and to come up with new flavor ideas to keep our customers engaged,” says Filippo. “My two favorite flavors are Pistachio and Bacio, which is a creamy flavor made with chocolate and hazelnut, with whole hazelnuts inside and our first ‘Gelato Flavor of the Month’ was Pumpkin Spice Latte, inspired by the Starbucks drink. This month’s flavor is ‘Bread, Butter and Jam,’ with whole wheat bread and mixed berry jam, which has been a hit so far.” They offer vegan flavors as well.

Filippo wants everyone to know that he and Nicole are interested in establishing connections with businesses and individuals. “Anyone who has the same vocation towards inclusion to collaborate on future projects.” And for anyone who plans on visiting Italy and is interested in visiting Spatolata, Fiilippo says they would love to be part of your trip. “If any readers make a trip to Reggio Emilia, please reach out to us. We will happily accommodate you.”

Spatolata | Gelato fatto con passione
Spatolata on IG

At the farm where they buy their milk

Accessible entrance with automatic door.


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