Bibi Morelli Schofield, Owner and Managing Director of Morelli’s Gelato
ML: Tell us about your professional background. You were a lawyer but now run Morelli’s Gelato – the family ice cream business, with a franchise in Monaco.
BMS: It’s true, I began my career as a lawyer, both as a Member of the NY Bar and then in the UK where I worked as a Banking Lawyer with Clifford Chance, spending several years working in their London, Madrid and Milan offices. Much as I enjoyed this environment, I felt I wanted the challenge and autonomy of launching my own business.
Following my father’s decision at the time to retire imminently and my observations of the gelato market, both from living in Italy and travelling abroad, I decided that the expansion of the ice cream business internationally would be a great project and chose to join the family business, taking it into its 5th generation of family management.
After a few years based in other places, we ended up in this part of the world for various reasons, not least that I have family here. It is also well connected to London and conveniently located in terms of access to Italian suppliers. Along with security and good weather, access to sea and mountains and a vibrant international community, it is for us a perfect location.
ML: What are some of your favourite family activities in Monaco? Where’s your preferred spot for some quiet time in Monaco?
BMS: My favourite attractions in Monaco in terms of family time with my husband and Celeste, our 7-year-old daughter, are long walks along the seafront including the lovely Japanese garden, with of course an ice cream at Morelli’s as the cherry on top! Having spent the last 10 years in Zimbabwe, we love nature and wildlife, and will also escape into the surrounding mountains for long hikes whenever time permits.
I adore any of the outside spaces at the Yacht Club for quiet time … absolutely beautiful views and very serene.
ML: What is something that would surprise people to learn about being a Mom in Monaco?
BMS: Notwithstanding the reputation for glamour, I have found most of the mothers here to be very grounded particularly in terms of parenting – there is a wonderful camaraderie and a great support system, all the more lively for the exotic mix of cultures. Fun fairs, bowling, ice skating, gingerbread houses and so on … all form part of a mother’s life here too. My experience with the International School of Monaco Early Years has been a very positive one and one which I would recommend to any mother.
ML: Why made you decide to become a lawyer? What were the good and bad aspects about that lifestyle?
BMS: We have a history of lawyers in the family, not least my grandfather who amongst other things was the Minister of Justice in Venezuela and, as one of the driving forces behind Venezuela’s democracy, was a truly inspirational figure to me and to all who knew him.
I guess I also displayed the right characteristics for this as a child and from an early age enjoyed debating, reading and so forth.
There were many good aspects of life as a lawyer. I hugely appreciate, for example, the skills set one develops which is transferable to most other walks of life. Attention to detail, project management, teamwork, working under pressure and commitment to the task at hand were central to that environment. It was challenging and demanding but we were also excellently supported.
As for the negative, very late nights, even all-nighters and weekends, at the office, were not unusual and although in itself this did not bother me, I did not enjoy not having any autonomy over my own time. It wasn’t so much that you had to work all night, it was that it was not my decision which night that would be! It was also a very specialised area of law and I preferred the idea of working across a broader range of subjects.
ML: Morelli’s Gelato has been dishing out ice cream since 1907. What’s the history of the company?
BMS: Morelli’s began in 1907 when my great-great-grandfather walked from Southern Italy near Naples to the UK and started selling handmade ice cream from the back of a bicycle. Over the next four generations of Morelli’s, the business developed from bikes to vans to coastal stores across the UK selling not only ice cream but sundaes and shakes and coffees and cakes … but we always continued the tradition of freshly made gelato and, of course, the “secret family recipe” containing milk, cream and sugar. Our original store in Broadstairs, which seats 180 people and opened in 1932, is still there today in all its retro glory and is a much-loved nostalgic destination for visitors to the area.
ML: Part of your vision when you took over from your father was to export boutique stores to unique destinations. Can you talk about your ideas for development, and how your legal background helped the expansion process?
BMS: I had noticed that in many countries the only real ice cream presence was in brands such as Häagen Dazs/Ben and Jerry’s/Baskin-Robbins. I felt that a luxury “fresh” gelato like ours offering quality, heritage and a differentiated concept, which included our signature eye-catching sundaes, would be very well received. It also made sense to me to focus on destinations with good weather all year round and a strong tourist element, rather than a rollout of parlours in the UK where there is such strong seasonality.
This desire to export our concept to foreign countries together with the know-how in our business and my legal background led me to establish a franchise concept, which I used as the vehicle for expansion. Essentially I packaged the knowledge we had in our business into manuals and systems, which could be easily followed by our partners, and the franchise model enabled relatively rapid growth supported by local partners with local knowledge in each territory. My vision – now 10 years ago – was to change the way people in far flung lands perceived ice cream … that fresh gelato made from the very best ingredients was a wonderful and completely different thing to ice cream in a plastic tub. Over the last decade, I believe gelato has already become more synonymous with a better, healthier option.
ML: Morelli’s has been sold in Monaco at the Café de Paris for the last 10 years through SBM as your Monaco partner. How did this happen?
BMS: We approached SBM ten years ago because we felt that with such a prestigious location in perhaps the world’s most exclusive square, the Café de Paris deserved the best. As a family we have been based in Monaco for over 40 years, we understand the market, we have a unique 111 year old family heritage with our product, and we have been honoured to partner with SBM to offer customers something totally exclusive and beautiful rather than just ordinary “scoops” on offer from a homogenous, ubiquitous brand.
ML: In today’s environment of wellbeing and healthy living, how do you market ice cream?
BMS: I don’t believe that people want to forego their treats, albeit in search of a healthy lifestyle. People will still enjoy cakes, desserts and, of course, ice cream…. I do however believe that a more discerning consumer will seek to ensure that when they do have a treat, or buy one for their family, that it is fresh, good quality and made with healthy, natural ingredients. If you are going to have a treat, it does not need to be “junk food”. This is where our product is easy to market. We produce our ice cream fresh, on site, every day, in every store. We use no artificial colourings or flavourings and no hydrogenated fat. We source our ingredients meticulously and have strong product provenance to ensure the best quality of that particular item, for example, cacao from Venezuela and coffee from Kilimanjaro.
ML: I heard that Morelli’s makes ice cream for dogs?
BMS: Indeed! We launched a canine gelato (no lactose, very low sugar) last year in the UK to great acclaim. I absolutely adore dogs and our 1932 seaside ice cream parlour in Broadstairs, where many customers come in after walking their dogs along the seafront, is dog-friendly. I thought it would be fun that any customer of the parlour would receive a scoop as a treat for their dog, which would ordinarily just watch everyone enjoying their food and drink. I cannot, however, claim this to have been a financial success as somewhat indulgently we preferred to make the dog scoops complimentary to ensure they all received one!
ML: If you could have three magic business wishes, how would you expand/develop your business?
BMS: In Monaco, if I could have three business wishes, I would love to introduce in conjunction with SBM i) yacht/home delivery of fresh gelato …perhaps on cute purple Vespas; ii) another all year round location(s) around the principality to attract a wider customer base beyond the Café de Paris where we have a summer presence only; and iii) provide wholesale supply to bars/restaurants/hotels/events in Monaco. And if the genie were feeling generous then just for fun iv) a dog gelato, too.
ML: What’s the hardest part of running a family business? What is the advantage/disadvantage of being a woman in business?
BMS: It can be difficult to ever get away from a family business. It pervades most of your family life – dinners and weekends and holidays – it’s always part of the conversation. And if you ever feel like you would like a change, you can’t exactly resign. It also means much more to you than just a commercial venture where “you win some and you lose some”. You have so much more invested in terms of emotion and pride and I guess a weighty feeling of responsibility to those who worked hard before you to get it this far and those who come after you to whom you should be able to hand a legacy.
I have never, ever found it a disadvantage to be a woman in law or in business. On the contrary, I feel that if anything, it has been a benefit to be a woman in a “man’s” world – I have always felt respected and comfortable and I am very sorry that so many women feel they have had such negative experiences. I am fortunate that this has not been the case for me.
ML: How do you organise your day?
BMS: I refuse to wake up until there is at least some daylight! I then take a minimum of 45 minutes to do a daily exercise/meditation routine. I drop our daughter at school and have a coffee. After that the working day begins and I try to have most of my work done by the time my daughter arrives back home. We try to cook and eat dinner together as a family. There is always the me/mother/businesswoman/wife/daughter/friend balance to achieve. It is really not always easy to juggle everything, particularly if you throw travel into the mix, but it is an absolute privilege to have the richness of a life with all facets represented. I am lucky to have a hugely supportive husband and wonderful parents based in Monaco who are happy to help in the day if necessary.
ML: What is the one device you cannot live without?
BMS: According to my husband, my iPhone! Closely followed by my Sonos. I have never and still do not own a TV and I am not a social media person – mercifully, no Facebook, Instagram etc.
ML: How would you describe the female community in Monaco?
BMS: Exotic, glamorous, friendly and fun.
ML: What is something you’ve always wanted to try or do?
BMS: There is so much. I love yoga, meditation, hiking and wildlife. I love music, food and wine. Bucket list ranges from a Tantrayana retreat in Bhutan to walking the Camino de Santiago, seeing the gorillas in Uganda or taking a wine course in Bordeaux …
ML: We have to know … what’s your favourite ice cream flavour?
BMS: Our signature soft-serve dairy Vanilla – every time.
Article first published February 12, 2018.