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This focus on good ingredients stems from what Dan calls his “fascination” with flavors, something that compels him to spend years perfecting just one, such as the sour cherry flavor he’s had in the works for three years and finally plans to start selling this summer. He said overproduced flavors can often mask a substandard product.
“A lot of times the flavor is a little bit like a trap,” he said. “If it tastes artificial, if the texture is wrong, you can mask it with artificial flavors.”
But Dan said that with the gelato he sells at Pitango, the flavor is an integral part of the whole product, not an artificial construct.
“[With Pitango,] it’s not so much that the flavor is a thin layer on the outside, but what you get is what it is,” he said.
This fascination with flavors started in 2005, when he realized he had two daughters he’d need to support through college someday. (This was four years after Dan had sold his thriving software company.) After spending the better part of a million dollars figuring out how to re-create that classic gelato in the States, he opened his first shop in Baltimore. Although the gelato didn’t sell as well as he’d wanted it to, he was pleased with those patrons that did stop by.
“The customer reaction really made me happy,” he said. “We got the feeling that when we got the customer, he’s our customer forever.”
Dan has since opened three other locations — two in the District and one in Virginia. And although his product is popular with locals, he said he has no plans to make Pitango a national chain, for fear that the quality of his ingredients would deteriorate if he had to mass-produce his product.
For now, he’s content to experiment with flavors on a smaller scale, crafting them at his home and keeping them in a freezer in his garage. His new products are all taste-tested by his daughters and their friends, who are usually good indicators of whether a flavor will be popular or still needs more work.
And he knows the years of work he put in to the sour cherry flavor, amarena, paid off.
“If I see a certain flavor gone, I know that’s a winner,” he explained. “The amarena flew.”
Pitango’s 20 flavors will be available daily at 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE starting next week.