KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — A bunch of ladies are gathered around excitedly, their mood matched by their vibrant head scarves. Their forms are slightly hunched over something in the centre of the group but from a distance, all that’s visible is a large black umbrella. The women step away one by one, each with a black paper cup in hand that holds a colourful mound and a spoon. As the crowd disperses, the rest of the umbrella and what it’s attached to come into view. ‘Jersey Jack Gelato’, reads the logo on the side of a pale yellow box freezer that sits on a tricycle with a woven rectangular basket at one end.
It immediately brings waves of fond childhood memories that involved waiting patiently for the ice-cream man to come calling. Pedalling his trusty tricycle through the neighbourhood, he would ring a bell with one hand to signify his arrival. The children would gather, their carefully saved up pocket money in hand, and peer through the small square opening to decide what icy goodies to spend them on. Or simply point to the “menu” plastered to the side of the freezer.
Such scenes, ubiquitous for Malaysians growing up in the 1980s and earlier, have become an increasingly rare find until Jersey Jack’s tricycles started appearing around the city. Modelled after vintage 1930s ice-cream tricycles, the bikes were custom made and imported from Denmark, and have an intentionally classic feel to inspire nostalgia. Instead of the popsicle sticks and cone ice-creams we used to covet as kids, Jersey Jack is all about gelato, handmade at their flagship store on Jalan Berangan, a quiet strip off Bukit Bintang.
So in essence, Jersey Jack is a traditional Italian gelateria with its roots in Malaysia — how did that come about? Former mining engineer Anthony Gowler left the UK for Malaysia 20 years ago, 16 of which he spent running his own engineering practice. Like many others in the corporate world, he came to come to realise that the suit-and-tie routine was no longer his cup of tea.
He wanted to do something creative that would allow him to be hands-on in every aspect, and connect directly with customers. “My friend Paul Foster had brought in Jersey cows from Australia and set up Bright Cow farm in Sungai Buloh,” says Anthony. “He suggested that I use the milk — Jersey cows are known for producing rich, creamy milk — to make ice-cream.”
Anthony spoke to his mother about it, and she told him that dairy farmers in the UK were all turning to making ice-cream and other dairy products to stay afloat as the supermarkets were driving their traditional trade out of business. Anthony spent time at several farms in the UK to learn about making ice-cream from scratch, where his “lessons” ranged from milking cows all the way to churning the frozen delight.
The plan to set up an ice-cream company took a slight turn when he met gelato specialist Manuel Minelli at a conference in Singapore. Manuel offered to teach him the art of the traditional Italian dessert. “He saw that I was serious about making a premium product, and that was very important to him.”
The training was an accelerated 10-day course of 16 hours each day, and Anthony found that his engineering background came in handy. “It’s all about calculations and precision to make sure that all the components are correctly balanced. How much sugar, fats are in it...if you start with the right calculations, you are assured of a successful recipe. Whether it’s perfect or not is another story.”
The science, he says, makes up 75 per cent of gelato-making while the rest is driven by instincts. That’s the artistic and artisanal side of it, and Anthony’s personality serves him well in that respect. “I’m very particular about things, and I’m never completely happy so I keep tweaking and checking that every batch of gelato or sorbet we make is consistent.”
Jersey Jack Gelato was set up as a company in December 2014, its name derived from the Jersey cows whose milk the gelato are made from and Jack, Anthony’s two-and-a-half-year-old son. “My aim was to create friendly family venture and bring back those values from decades ago when practically all businesses were family run.”
It was another eight months before Jersey Jack Gelato welcomed their first customers, on the most auspicious date of August 8, 2015. At the store, seating is semi alfresco and you can just walk up to the gelato counter and ask to try any (or all) their flavours. Besides dairy-based classics such as tiramisu, chocolate, vanilla, amarena cherry, biscotti and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shards), there are sorbets made from Malaysian fruits such as durians, mangosteens and coconuts. Variegato, a yoghurt-based gelato, is also available and there are also diabetic-friendly options.
The gelato have beautiful, smooth textures and are rich in pure flavours. A lick of the Belgian chocolate is enough to have you asking for a full scoop, the After Eight is even better than eating the mint itself, the mango is heaven for fans of the fruit, and the pistachio never disappoints. The latter is the litmus test of any gelateria worth its salt, and Jersey Jack uses the finest Sicilian nuts.
Chef Emeline Aubry from the Michelin 1-star La Mare aux Oiseaux restaurant in France chanced upon Jersey Jack while in Kuala Lumpur as part of her six-month global food tour. She was captured on camera, visibly surprised and delighted at the taste of the gelato and has since named Jersey Jack as her favourite gelataria in the city.
If you’re up for some palate adventure, try the assam boi with apple and tangy lime, Anthony’s take on the popular kopitiam drink. “Initially, I was reluctant to work with local flavours as I wanted to stay true to what gelato is,” says Anthony. “One day, I was having a meal at a kopitiam and it occurred to me that maybe the assam boi with lime could work as a sorbet.” Also worth sampling is the chilli, ginger and lemongrass sorbet which is creamy, a little spicy and refreshing all at once while the strawberry, basil and mint is just as satisfying.
Although it was the cafe that opened first, Anthony’s plans actually began with the tricycles. “Everyone told me that a brick-and-mortar was a bad idea as overheads would be high so the store was actually an afterthought — I wanted the tricycles as I’m an avid cyclist, some days I still cycle to work.”
The tricycles were introduced last October, with four units stationed at several prominent locations around Kuala Lumpur. One of their first spots and which also yields the most attention is right in front of the KL City Gallery, adjacent to Dataran Merdeka. “DBKL has been crucial to our launch. On a whim, I went to meet them and proposed our concept; Puan Noraza Yusof and Datuk Normah Malik from the Tourism and Social Development unit, respectively, saw great potential in the bikes. Jersey Jack is now endorsed by the Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau.”
You can also find their tricycles at Central Market, Tabung Haji building on Jalan Tun Razak, Kompleks Kraf, Bursa Malaysia and the weekend Plaza Damas Flea Market — it’s best to track their appearances via Jersey Jack’s social media platforms. The bikes can be hired for events, private functions or to make a post-lunch appearance if a company wants to give their employees a mid-afternoon treat.
Each tricycle can carry nine flavours of gelato or sorbets, served either in cups or cones, and that’s just a fraction of Jersey Jack’s complete offerings. Their menu lists about 45 flavours, and a new variant is added each month. “We collect feedback from customers by asking them to fill up a form that goes into our monthly gelato lottery draw. We actually do read through all the comments, and will try out flavours they suggest,” says Anthony. Winners get a 2.5 litres tub of gelato that can easily feed 20 people. Some flavours that they have put to the test successfully include banoffee and MMM (Milo and M&Ms), which Anthony says is their most colourful flavour to date.
You can also have your favourite gelato or sorbet over waffles, pancakes, or as a milkshake — blended with Jersey milk that’s delivered to the store at least two to three times a week. The gelato and sorbets are made following the same schedule in order to make the most of the fresh, unpasteurised milk. Other dessert options include banana split, parfait and knickerbocker glory, a 1920s favourite that layers gelato, fruits, sponge cake, biscuits and cream in a tall sundae glass. Jersey Jack takes on customised orders for a minimum purchase of eight litres.
Already, the brand has gone international; a Malaysian couple based in Perth opened a Jersey Jack there earlier this year, in partnership with Anthony. In Kuala Lumpur, a second store is in the works and Jersey Jack wants to grow their network of tricycles by offering it for licensing to single parents and low-income groups. “It’s an instant, low-cost business; we supply everything, offer a good margin on the products and we don’t take any profits off them. Whatever they make is theirs, they just need to find a good location and obtain a permit for it.”
You won’t find Jersey Jack at any malls, as Anthony is adamant about keeping his business as organic as possible and not be tied down by anyone else’s regulations. There is only one “rule” that Anthony advocates: “Don’t eat gelato straight from the tub. Scoop out what you want and keep the rest back in the freezer.”
Jersey Jack Gelato is at 49 Jalan Berangan off Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Tel +603 2110 3346
Tue-Wed & Sun; 11am-1am, Thur; 11am-2am, Fri-Sat; closed on Mondays
Tricycles The one in front of KL City Gallery is there from 10am-6pm daily; other locations start between 10.30am-11am