SO, WHO IS JOE?
FOR some people, it is the best ice cream there is. For others, it’s the only ice cream. Today, it’s a food as synonymous with Wales as Penclawdd cockles or Halen Môn. But while those are named after the place they’re found, this ice cream is named after one man.
But how many of us have actually asked ourselves the question as we sit on the seafront at Mumbles or in a bustling cafe in Cardiff: just who is Joe? Does he even exist?
It’s a story that goes back to the 19th century and the arrival of the Italians in Wales.
In 1898, a peasant named Luigi Cascarini set off on his travels from the Abruzzi mountains of southern Italy, intending to work his way through Europe and on to America.
Landing at Swansea in the midst of the industrial era, Mr Cascarini discovered there were no cafes servicing the early workers of the Swansea valley.
He abandoned his plans to travel further and decided to open a place to serve coffee from dawn until dusk.
He borrowed enough money from an Italian friend to open a general food shop in Swansea High Street. He was a dedicated worker, opening at 4am every morning to serve the men heading to the munitions factory in Bridgend.
But what really set him apart was his homemade ice cream, once described by Mr Cascarini’s nephew, Enrico, as consisting of fresh milk, sugar and cornflour, which resembled “wallpaper paste”. But that didn’t seem to stop his business flourishing.
Mr Cascarini was a canny business man. He worked every hour of the day making his cafe such a success that soon he opened five more. When his eldest son, Joe, was old enough he brought him over to Wales from Italy in 1922, and set him up running his cafe at 85 St Helen’s Road. The original shop is still there.
Joe decided to concentrate solely on ice cream – and Joe’s Ice Cream was born.
The other five shops did not pass down the generations in the same way as Joe’s ice cream cafe, says Lucy Hughes, marketing manager at Joe’s today and part of Mr Cascarinis’s extended family.
“As the cafe owners passed by, so did the cafes themselves, although many people in Swansea do talk of their fondness for Cascarini’s, on Fabian Way, and its owner, Jenny Cascarini,” she said.
After the Second World War, Joe set about his quest for the perfect ice cream. He ditched the cornflour and tweaked the ingredients to include only dairy produce. He apparently tried more than 40 different types of milk.
He settled on a combination of five different types of milk, with sugar, a stabiliser and vanilla extract. And that recipe is as you’ll find it today.
“I’m afraid the recipe or technique for making the fresh vanilla is not shared,” says Lucy. “It has not been changed since Joe Cascarini created it, and will not be for as long as the people of Swansea and surroundings continue to enjoy it just the way it is.”
In 1960, Joe Cascarini fell ill, and his Italian sister Delia, who had married Colin Hughes since arriving in Wales, helped support the running of the business. Enrico Cascarini took on the production of the ice cream at St Helen’s.
After Joe Cascarini’s death in 1968, the business was passed to Delia Cascarini and her husband Colin Hughes.
By the 1980s, Enrico was working on solving an ongoing challenge: the problem with parlour ice cream is that it doesn’t keep – it has to be bought and eaten on the same day.
But Enrico, who was born in Swansea in 1931, managed to create a soft scoop version of the vanilla gelato so people could freeze it at home.
But he was faced with this problem: people said “this isn’t Joe’s” when they tried his soft-scoop version. After years of experimentation, he arrived at something which “stands on its own”.
Awards for the ice cream poured in, and Joe’s won the National Ice Cream Alliance Awards for three years running for various flavours between 2009 and 2011.
Enrico died in August of this year, aged 86. His two sons, Stefano and Luke, and daughter, Carla, live in England and have not followed in their father’s footsteps. But the family link is still strong.
Colin and Delia Hughes’ sons, Dominic and Adrian, now own the business, with Dominic’s children, Michael and Lucy on the staff. “We are all part of Enrico’s wider family,” says Lucy, who is Joe Cascarini’s great-great niece.
Today, Joe’s ice cream is a Swansea institution. Catherine Zeta Jones, who grew up in the city, is a fan, and “going for a Joe’s” is actually a thing people say.
Many workers are family members, others stay for years. Lucy is proud many of the management team are women.
The company had a major rebrand in 2013, but there are no plans to expand for now.
“We do choose to only sell our ice cream into the Welsh market and remain artisan with a strong emphasis on quality,” says Lucy. “This is also guided by our business still being family-run.”
Joe Cascarini and, right, one of the original shops
Enrico Cascarini at work making ice cream
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