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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Black Dog Gelato Launches Pint Subscription Service To Make It Through Pandemic Winter: ‘It’s A Matter Of Survival’

For $35 a month, you can be a part of Black Dog Gelato's pint subscription program. Flavors include goat cheese cashew caramel, mint cookie and malted vanilla pretzel.

Black Dog Gelato owner Jess Oloroso packages pints into boxes for a monthly subscription service.
Jess Oloroso / Provided
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EAST UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — In the 10 years Jess Oloroso has owned Black Dog Gelato, she’s relied on catering revenues to sustain her business through the winter.

But that money dried up this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, Oloroso has resurrected an idea she came up with when she launched in 2010: a pint subscription service.

For $35 a month, fans can become part of Black Dog Gelato’s pint subscription program. Membership boxes are sent monthly and include three pint options. You can also give the gift of a pre-paid three-month subscription ($120) or a six-month subscription ($225).

By becoming a pint club member, neighbors can help Black Dog survive the pandemic and reopen its shops in East Ukranian Village, Logan Square and the West Loop next year, Oloroso said.

“We’re nestled in these little neighborhoods … people who come in my doors, a lot of them have been with me for 10 years,” she said. “I think we’ll survive until next summer.”

Black Dog is known for its inventive flavors, like Mexican hot chocolate, goat cheese cashew caramel and “The 606,” a sweet and savory Indian-inspired gelato. There are three options for monthly memberships:

  • Featured flavor box: Seasonal flavors and fan favorites. January’s flavors are XO marshmallow fluffer nuffer, birthday cake and malted vanilla pretzel.
  • Signature flavor box: “Best sellers” goat cheese cashew caramel, mint cookie and classic chocolate.
  • Dairy-free flavor box: Dairy-free chocolate, dairy-free coconut almond and “The 606.”

Flavors change month to month. Check the list here, under “flavors.”

Memberships include a monthly gift or sample, online and in-store discounts, recipes for gelato pairings, early access to special menus, access to post-pandemic events and more.

Pickups and local delivery take place on the third weekend of each month. Ordering for December has closed. Place an order for next month by Jan. 11.

‘We’re At A Deficit’

Oloroso grew up in Rogers Park before moving to Ukrainian Village. In 2007, she left her job as pastry chef at Stephanie Izard’s Scylla, and in 2010 she opened her first scoop shop at 859 N. Damen Ave. in East Ukrainian Village.

As Black Dog grew in popularity, Oloroso expanded to West Loop, 1012 W. Lake St. She opened this year in Logan Square, 2662 N. Sawyer Ave.

What hit Oloroso hardest this year was the loss of catering business, which typically account for around a third of her overall revenues. This year’s catering made up less than a tenth of her revenues.

Catering revenues were even more crucial this year to offset costs associated with opening the Logan Square shop, Oloroso said.

“All of the weddings, all of the corporate functions. … We typically do anywhere between 200 to 250 events during the summer. So all of that’s gone,” Oloroso said.  

When Black Dog Gelato reopened for service this summer, neighbors were very supportive, Oloroso said.

“The people who felt safe being out and in public and in businesses were amazing,” Oloroso said. “Everyone was so supportive, great to the staff. … We realized it was something people could do and still feel kind of normal about it.”

Because ice cream is a seasonal business, most of Oloroso’s staff are seasonal employees. In the spring, she received Paycheck Protection Program funds, which helped her stay open and meet payroll even as revenues fell.

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Oloroso has been able to bring back several employees to help with monthly pickups; however, the bulk of gelato production and deliveries has fallen on her.

If more federal money is awarded to the business — or if more neighbors sign up for the subscription program — Black Dog Gelato can re-employ more staff.

“The more people sign up for this, the more hours I can give. … Right now I’m doing a lot of the work myself. It’s not me intentionally taking hours from my staff. It is a matter of survival,” she said.

Despite all the hardships, Oloroso has been able to give back when possible. This summer, she donated half her profits on National Ice Cream Day to an organization supporting Black moms.

She’s also offered free pints to health care workers. Her husband is an emergency doctor at Stroger Hospital and several of her longtime customers are health care workers, she said.

“We’re in a much better position than other restaurants,” she said. “A lot of people lost their jobs because restaurants closed. … We were able to stay in business. Not that it hasn’t been a struggle.”

Join the monthly pint club by placing an order online. Follow Black Dog Gelato on Facebook and Instagram. Send inquiries to info@blackdogchicago.com.

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