By Ana Tavares [email protected]
With Praia da Luz being one of the most popular and family-friendly beach resorts in the Algarve, it is somewhat surprising that nobody ever decided to open an artisanal ice cream shop in town. Until Carla Fernandes and Luc Saint John, that is.
After opening an ice cream shop and factory along with her parents in Portimão in 1998 and moving to the Portimão Retail Park in 2010 – which she fortunately left in 2011 before a huge fire destroyed the commercial facility in September last year – Carla went on to open her business in Luc’s established restaurant, Fortaleza da Luz, opposite the Luz church.
A true family business – Carla’s cousin, mother and sister also work at the shop – and the perfect complement to a restaurant that is a household name in the area, the Ice Cream Factory has become a tremendously popular spot amongst tourists and local residents, who often queue outside the pretty Italian-style establishment for as long as an hour. Originally open just five months a year, Carla has been progressively extending the business’s working months due to high demand, and her delicious homemade ice creams are now sold from April through to the end of October.
According to the ice cream maker, the reasons behind such success are her recipes and choice of ingredients. Working only with the best seasonal fresh fruit and using authentic Italian ingredients, the family team at the Ice Cream Factory produces mouth-watering artisanal creations, with popular flavours including chocolate brownie, mango, lemon, and cream and cherry. “Customers love the taste of fresh fruit,” says Carla. In fact, they love it so much that she says it is common to have clients, mainly families, coming back several times on the same day as part of their holiday routine.
Following a one-week intensive course in 2010 with an Italian couple to sharpen her skills in making ice cream the Italian way, Carla found a new burst of creativity and is now more keen than ever on experimenting. This year, inspired by popular chocolate brands, she has introduced new flavours such as Snickers and Bounty, as well as crème brûlée. With about 50 flavours available, she notes that her “window is becoming just too small”.
Producing an average of 75 ice cream vats per week in a fairly simple process – “We mix the milk, sugar and cream in a container and then blend in the flavours or fruit. Then, we put the mixture in the ice cream machine and five minutes later, we’ve got two ice cream vats,” she explains. The Ice Cream Factory also prepares delicious crepes and waffles and supplies Traditional Ice Cream Bikes, a UK-based company which rents and manufactures ice cream bikes for events.
With sales doubling every year since the business’s inception, Carla is hoping to expand her services by opening a new ice cream shop in the area. “We’ve been having so much success that we kind of feel the pressure to open a new shop, probably next year.” Success never tasted so sweet.
The Ice Cream Factory is open every day from 11am until 11pm.