AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLA SZTUKA

A TASTE OF ITALY IN THE HEART OF BRISTOL

It’s hard to miss Cowbee with its prominent position on Bristol’s College Green, but walk down Park Street and you will immediately spot the bright yellow awnings that frame the new café’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Having opened in summer 2019, this artisan ice cream and waffle house lives up to its catchphrase – “it’s always sunny in Cowbee.”

Cowbee has already served more than 6,000 waffles to satisfied customers and have greatly impressed our judges – who named it Dessert Shop of the Year – with the quality and variety on offer. To find out more though, we spoke with one half of the husband and wife team – and Italian trained gelato specialist – Nicola Sztuka.

What can you tell us about your background?

The first six months of trading have certainly had their ups and downs. Cowbee took around two years to develop, and there were so many decisions to make and things to co-ordinate – we had lots of lively debates! When we finally opened on 17 August we had an instant queue, which was fantastic but there were times in those early days when we were definitely overwhelmed!

What does ‘Advanced Gelato’ training involve?

I took a two-year catering course a few years ago and attended the Carpigiani Gelato University to learn the art of making Italian gelato.

How did this help shape the concept for Cowbee?

We spent a long time researching the market and evaluating how we could develop the concept in a way that would be true to our values. Good quality ingredients are really important to us and we have travelled far and wide to find them! We also avoid using single-use plastic and use compostable cups. We get quite a few suggestions that we should change our ice cream spoons from plastic to wood – but the spoons are actually made from plants, its just that they look like plastic!

How important are the ingredients to the overall quality and taste?

Our gelato is very special because it is made with the best local organic milk and cream. We also use honey – often from our own bees, which gives a subtle but distinct taste difference.  Customers have commented that our ice cream is the best they have tasted and that it tastes different to others. In that regard, I would say that ingredients are everything! If we are not happy with a flavour then we change it or stop serving it.

Can you talk us through some of the most popular items on the menu?

Below the bustling café you will find the Cowbee ‘Hive’ – a state-of-the-art kitchen where we make the gelato. I enjoy creating unusual flavours like Peach & Rose, Apricot & Ginger Crumble, Frangipane for Christmas, and a divine Hot Cross Bun flavour for Easter. All these and many more have graced the beautiful Italian ice-cream counter. However, firm favourites with regular customers include Whisky Cream, Honeycomb and Biscoffi Cheesecake, but it’s the pink and blue Unicorn that is a hit with the kids – and quite a few adults too!

How about the waffles?

The waffles have been a huge hit with customers in Bristol and we are particularly proud of our signature stuffed waffles. Apple and Cinnamon, Blueberries and Banana are just some of the things that are baked into the already delicious waffles. Weekends are packed out and customers tell us they are the best waffles they have ever had – which is amazing!

Cowbee has created quite a unique setting. What can you tell us about this?

The café’s bright and airy interior and huge yellow neon, which declares, ‘you are my sunshine’, all seem to generate an infectious buzz. Everything in the café was handpicked by myself and [my husband] Adam, and even the neon has a special significance: it was the song that I sang to my son when he was a baby. Cowbee was very-much inspired by and created with the help of our three children, so we thought it would be a nice way to celebrate that, and make people smile – cowbee is all about good times and great treats.

It is often said that the first year of business is the hardest. How has the first year been so far?

It has been a long, hard year. The build started late because the building wasn’t ready and that put real pressure on us to condense the build and open before summer was over. Adam project managed the build so we were both very hands-on. Once we were open, I had to work to keep up with the demand for our ice cream. It was a nice problem to have but a month of back-to-back 16 hour days was exhausting. We now have a gelato chef to help and that means we can get on with new products and improvements to the business.

Is there anything else we can expect different from Cowbee in the future?

We are always developing our menu and have some exciting new offerings in the pipeline. Watch this space!

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