Noe Valley Voice October 2005

Store Trek

By Heidi Anderson

Store Trek is a regular feature of the Noe Valley Voice, profiling new stores and businesses in and around Noe Valley. This month, we introduce a new 24th Street shop specializing in fine chocolates and gelato, the Italian ice cream known for its intense flavors.

Belgano Chocolatier and Gelateria
3901 24th Street at Sanchez Street

About a year ago, Noe Valley resident Randy Jensen sold his San Francisco bakery business and traveled around Europe for a while. When he returned home, he noticed that something was lacking on 24th Street.

"I woke up one morning and asked myself, Where in Noe Valley can you buy good gelato or a Belgian chocolate...and it stays open late? No place!"

Jensen set out to fill the void.

On July 20, he opened Belgano Chocolatier and Gelateria, in the corner storefront formerly filled by Stonehouse Olive Oil Company (and before that, Dharma and Tom and Dave's Juice-It), at 24th and Sanchez streets.

"From day one it's been busy," says Jensen. "The third day we served 952 people."

The small shop has a European feel and a name reminiscent of an Italian village. "We made it up," confesses Jensen. "Bel stands for Belgium, and gano stands for Lugano, Switzerland, which I love. It's a Swiss town across the border from Lake Lugano in Italy."

And Jensen is selling all of the things he dreamed about. "I wanted to provide the best--things like this award-winning gelato, Ciao Bella."

He proudly points to the long, sleek gelato case that he imported from Italy to hold 23 flavors of Ciao Bella's frozen gelato and sorbetto. Customers can sample familiar gelato flavors like chocolate, lemon, raspberry, or coconut, but they also may treat themselves to the extravagant-sounding Blackberry Cabernet, Blood Orange Sorbetto, or Valrhona Chocolat, made with French chocolate. Prices range from $3.50 for a two-scoop cup to $6 for a hand-packed pint.

Gelato shakes and smoothies appear on the menu as well, and, in a salute to the neighborhood, Jensen has named them after local streets. For starters, you can try the "Noe Street" (chocolate, banana, espresso), the "24th Street" (espresso and chocolate), the "Duncan Street" (strawberry, blueberry, mango, orange, and passion fruit), and the "Church Street" (honey and vanilla-bean gelato). Shakes come in one size, large, for $6.75.

Jensen points out that the sorbets are 75 to 80 percent fresh fruit, with a "little bit" of sugar, and ice. "They're good for vegans and those who are lactose-intolerant," he says.

The chocolate and candy Jensen carries come from a well-known Belgian candymaker named Leonidas. He will tempt you with "Gianduja," candy made with pure praline, or the "Manon Café," a chocolate with coffee, fresh buttercream, and hazelnuts. For the adventurous, there is the "Europe" (ganache and rum). Jensen jokes that he checks ID before selling that piece.

Prices for chocolate by the piece run from 30 cents to $1.80.

"In places in Europe, people will stop in at the local chocolatier and buy one piece, say on their way home from work," Jensen says. "I want customers to know they can come in for one piece, just to pick them up a little!"

In fact, he prefers it that way. "Our chocolate has no preservatives. It's very fresh. We prefer not to sell it by the pound, unless of course it's for a party."

Belgano sells no-sugar-added chocolate by the piece, too (made with Splenda), and "most of our chocolates are kosher."

Jensen also is proud to offer the Italian coffee Illy Caffè, named for Francesco Illy, who perfected the espresso machine more than 50 years ago. A regular cup of coffee is $1.65, a double shot of espresso $2, and a cappuccino $3.50.

For early risers, Jensen has a sweet deal. "Anyone who orders a cappuccino or latte before 11 a.m. gets a free piece of chocolate," he says.

Or maybe they'd prefer to buy a pastry. Jensen carries Bakers of Paris and several items from the bakery he sold last year, Sweet Inspirations. "Since we opened here, the most popular pastry has been our tart with chocolate crust, Valrhona chocolate, strawberry and raspberry," he says. "But I'd have to say that the lemon ginger cookie and the tangy lemon bar are popular, too." Prices range from $2 to $6.95.

Belgano Chocolatier and Gelateria will ship orders overnight to any place in the U.S., and after Oct. 20 you can order from the web site.

Meanwhile, the shop is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. "The only day we'll close is Christmas Day."