Fiorentina fans come in all shapes and sizes, but did you know they come with great flavors too? Sergio Dondoli has long been a Fiorentina fan. His life has taken him on many journeys, but like many Fiorentina fans, those roads are always paved with viola bricks.
Sergio was born near San Gimignano, a beautiful hill town and a UNESCO world heritage site in Tuscany known for its many medieval towers and as the setting for Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini (a movie Sergio participated in). Today though, San Gimignano is as much known for the award-winning modern art at Gelateria Dondoli as it is for its architecture, unforgettable skyline, and picturesque views.
After years of living in and operating two restaurants in Germany, Sergio moved back home to open Gelateria Dondoli in 1992. “When we opened, there was only my wife, me, and one other helper. Now after twenty-eight years of commitment, our gelato has finally found the success I think it deserves. We now have twenty people working in our family company.” The pride with which Sergio speaks of his Gelateria is palpable. He speaks so highly about the work done over the years by all of those who have helped. “The reason for our success is the constant use of top local quality products, which is now very à la mode, but 25 years ago it was something only pioneers were doing. In this way we created a whole line of register flavor such as Crema di Santa Fina® (Tahiti vanilla, locally grown saffron and Pisa pine nuts).”
One thing you need to know about Sergio is he is a showman; he does not lack for personality. He is a kind man, snapping selfies with all of those waiting patiently in the long lines at his gelateria. Sergio has been named a “Living National Treasure”, an honor currently held by a mere 400 hundred people globally, and he embodies it every day with grace and flair as he meets with his many fans who come to visit his store in San Gimignano. Ask him for a picture and you will get a larger than life, sprightly smile and big hands to remind you of your first meeting with this master chef.
Sergio and Gelateria Dondoli have been very successful. Dondoli has won so many awards that it is easier to post a link to them here. A result of his many successes, he has been given an opportunity to give back and support those things he cares about, one of which is his beloved Fiorentina. “We started supporting Fiorentina financially as a technical sponsor back in 2014 serving gelato in the Fiorentina VIP lounge.” Sergio tells us how his sponsorship of the club evolved a year later. “In 2015, we thought that being a proper sponsor would be a great image advantage for the both companies, so we jumped on the Fiorentina boat 100%.”
Sergio grew up in Strove, Italy as a lifetime Fiorentina fan. He tells us he was not always fortunate to support his team in person. “Back in my childhood, my family and I couldn’t afford going to the games at the stadium.” As a young adult Sergio enrolled in Hotel Management School and after graduating moved to Germany to start his career. “When I lived in Germany as an adult, Fiorentina was one of the few things that kept me connected to my native land, and once I got back, I started to attend all matches I could,” Sergio says with his world-famous smile.
Sergio continues, “I got back to Italy in 1988, going to the stadium was a vivid desire, so I started to attend often. The most important memory I have that comes to mind is going to the stadium with my (at the time) young son, together watching Batigol and Fiorentina’s dream team. They were a top-class team.”
Sergio tells us that this agreement to support his childhood club has created many memorable experiences for him and his family. He has many times been able to meet and speak with players, managers, and ownership at the club. He has many pictures that he holds dear here. Sergio tells us that Christmas has always been his favorite time of year and he enjoys spending some of that time with the Fiorentina club. “Definitely the Christmas party with the team is a highlight. I get the chance to talk and interact personally with managers and players, obviously accompanied by our fantastic gelato which has always had great success with the players, and that makes me super proud.”
As the gelato sponsor for the team, Sergio is often in the VIP room serving up his freshest creations before and after the game, as well as watching the game with the fans in between. In his time he has served the likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Borja Valero, Manuel Pasqual, Stefan Savic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Marcos Alonso, the Delle Valle brothers and Sandro Mencucci.
Sergio tells us about the one moment that will always stand out for him as a fan. Like many before him, he recalls the October 20th, 2013 thriller between Fiorentina and rivals, Juventus (boo, hisss!). Sergio provides another unique perspective to this game. “Before the match I was serving our gelato in the VIP room to President Della Valle, the team manager and many others. After tasting the gelato (The flavor was Vinsanto Eggnog), the President realized it was very rich in energy. He said to me as a joke, “Make sure you let Montella know that I want this gelato to be served to the team as it will give us better chances of winning and smash Juventus.”
Sergio tells us after serving his gelato pregame he watched the game next to Mario Gomez. “I vividly remember the commotion when we heard the triple whistle. After the match when I saw Mr. Della Valle again I said, ‘Mr. President I gave the the team gelato after the first half!’ He said nothing but hugged me in an extreme outburst of joy that was very surprising to me knowing the President’s personality.” Sergio finishes the story with this, “I was celebrating with the team and President until 3:00am that morning. It was a crazy experience that I’ll never forget.”
Sergio mentions two other moments he witnessed at the Franchi that stand out to him, “Batistuta scoring a rocket goal against Arsenal in 1999 and the Coppa Italia victory in 1991.”
As far as the future goes, Sergio has seen all he needs to buy in to Rocco Commisso. His support of the club will certainly continue, so make sure you look for the Gelateria Dondoli advertisements the next time you are at the Franchi. “All we expect from the new ownership is to be passionate about Fiorentina, one that doesn’t only care only about the business but has a great long term project. Mister Commisso has shown that.” He says with a satisfied smile. “So we all have great expectations.”
Alright, let’s get down to the good stuff: his world champion gelato. How does a man express his love for his club? In Sergio’s case, he makes a gelato in the image of the club and names it after its beloved fan section, Curva Fiesole. “Curva Fiesole® was born thanks to the passion I have for Fiorentina. It is a homage to my favorite team and the color speaks for itself. It had the dream and the pleasure to make it taste to all players I came about during my experience and now as a lot of time has passed and the voice spread all real Fiorentina supporters know about it and want a cup of it!”
Some of the most amazing people have made their way to San Gimignano to feast on Sergio’s many recipes. He has hosted politicians, actors and actresses, singers, models, beauty pageant winners, magicians, athletes, and businessmen and businesswomen. Some that stood out to me are former Firenze Mayor and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the late great Fiorentino director Franco Zeffirelli, football coach Luciano Spalletti and, of course, the biggest Italian jewel himself (in my humblest of opinions), Andrea Bocelli.
What are all these famous people coming for? Sergio tells us, “All of our gelato is the result of highly selected, top-quality ingredients, particularly products from the region. We own 65 cows that are providing us all the dairy we use every day. Our cows are only raised free range and grass fed. They never ever been injected with any antibiotics. We raise our cows with both a biodynamic and organic diet and lifestyle.” With this attention to detail, it is no wonder why he is a two-time Gelato World Champion.
Out of the many Dondoli creations to be experienced, Sergio highlights a few:
Champelmo®: a blend of locally produced champagne and grapefruit. Named by “Gambero Rosso” food and wine magazine as 2006 best ice cream
Curva Fiesole®: made from locally produced ewe ricotta and blueberries
Michelle®: a flavor made in honor of Michelle Obama’s beauty; made from almonds, figs, orange and honey
Rosemary baby®: a raspberry blend with locally-grown rosemary
Venere nera®: blackberry blend with lavender
Italian Garden®: basil cheesecake topped with sweet tomato and strawberry coulis
After reviewing his lists, I found myself selfishly hoping for Crema di Santa Fina®, Dolceamaro®, Amedei chocolate or White chocolate and Grand Marnier on my next trip to San Gimignano in October.
As we ended our conversation, Sergio asked me if I would make note of the dream he has had since seeing Rocco take over in June. All he wants is to one day soon be in the company of Rocco Commisso and Joe Barone and to serve them the fan favorite Curva Fiesole gelato in the VIP lounge of the Artemio Franchi. We hope to help his dream come true.
Working with Sergio on our latest Fiorentina Fan Spotlight was truly enjoyable moment for us. He provided another perspective to the Fiorentina-Juve game of 2013, brought us into a few moments he has had over the years behind the scenes, and hopefully, left us all craving some award-winning gelato. On your next trip to Firenze, if you have the time for a day trip, do yourself a favor and go see Sergio Dondoli and all that San Gimignano has to offer. Speaking from experience, you will not be disappointed.