Nathan and Mulan Gutsell met in Mulan’s fruit shop and found a mutual interest in good quality ingredients.
After selling the shop, the pair grew watermelon and other produce in Whenuapai. Selling mini watermelon and ice cream at the Auckland Lantern Festival sparked their interest in selling at events and markets. The pair also had the idea to make their own ice cream, and disappointed by the offerings in Auckland at the time, set out to make gelato.
Mulan has been cooking since the age of 11, and has a natural ability to pair unusual ingredients in a perfectly balanced way. Nathan has worked in the construction, hire, agriculture, fishing and hospitality industries, doing everything from boat building, dairy farming and building aquariums to cooking and serving beer in London pubs. Nathan attended Chef School at Auckland Hotel and Chefs School.
Together, they built a commercial kitchen from chiller panels, and spent a year researching and developing recipes from scratch. With four children, Nathan and Mulan wanted to make a product that had no artificial colourings or additives, which led to the exclusive use of real organic ingredients.
In 2011, Lalele Organic Gelato was born. The pair started selling at the Auckland Night Markets four nights a week, while still selling produce at the Mangere and Avondale markets on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“Needless to say we didn't get much sleep.”
After a while, the Gutsell’s moved to the Coatesville Market, also selling at events with the Food Truck Collective.
Now, they have a permanent inside stall at Catalina Bay Farmers Market, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as their Little Vintage Gelato Caravan, a truck for larger events and catering.
They do everything from school galas and fundraising events to markets, festivals, film crew catering and corporate staff treats and functions.
Lalele Organic’s point of difference is not premixing or pre-geling - like many gelato companies do.
“We love to use real ingredients such as rosemary, thyme (grown by us), and buy organic produce directly from the grower whenever we can.”
The pair love experimenting with unusual flavours like black sesame and coconut, persimmon and pine needle, and rosemary, raspberry and coconut. Often, they get requests for special flavours specific to events such as Kawakawa sorbet, harvested at Muriwai Beach where Nathan grew up.
“We have good relationships with quality event organisers and find the best way to get events is to be loyal. If you say you will do it, then do it. We know where our demographic tends to be and we only attend events in these areas - not everyone understands what we are trying to do.”
The Gutsell’s have faced challenges along the way, finding the process of obtaining the MPI Food Safety licence expensive and time consuming.
“We had to sell our boat, Hilux and tractor to pay for the food safety program and nearly failed before we started.”
The business got a refresh in the downtime of the Covid-19 pandemic, with new branding and an improved counter at the Farmers market, but faced huge financial challenges.
“Our biggest influence is wanting to do well for our children, set an example and expose them to business and a wide rage of experiences. All of our four children now help us every weekend as we had to lay off all our staff due to Covid-19 lockdowns and the related large financial losses.”
Looking to the future, the couple have goals of opening a factory shop, and owning more land to enable them to grow more of their own produce and herbs.
“Our plan was always to stay fairly small so we can manage the quality and not spend all day walking around a large factory with a hairnet on telling people what to do.”