By Seth Daniel
Chelsea’s Mimi Rancatore has constructed a life around an ice cream cone, and to date, it’s been topped with sprinkles.
Rancatore has lived in Chelsea since 2001, but during working hours she spends her days in Cambridge at the world-renowned Toscanini’s Ice Cream and Coffee in Central Square – a business she has co-owned with her brother for more than a decade.
Toscanini’s has been around since 1982, when Rancatore’s brother, Gus, started the business after training in ice cream making at Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square. Rancatore, who also worked at Steve’s and learned a lot about ice cream, worked in fine dining at many notable restaurants until joining her brother a little over 10 years ago.
“I love my job and I love Chelsea,” said Rancatore this week at her shop in Central Square. “I love wearing multiple hats in business and I love being in charge. Both Gus and I worked at the old Steve’s Ice Cream in Davis Square in 1975 and 1976. Steve started the parlor ice cream. He invented the mix-ins. We worked there and then we went our separate ways. Gus is the ice cream maker, which he is excellent at, and I do the business end. Don’t get me wrong, I can make ice cream and I can cook, but Gus is really good at it. I was into fine dining for a long time, but got sick of the hours and joined Gus as a co-owner about 11 years ago. The best way to describe Toscanini’s is it’s an adult ice cream store. We have a lot of flavors for children too, but we have some complex ones as well. I love working in an ice cream store because it’s happy food. Everyone is happy here.”
Rancatore was born in the New York City/New Jersey area, but she and her five siblings spent their high school years in St. Louis. Her brother Gus had already left St. Louis and settled in Boston when Rancatore graduated high school. She said she couldn’t bear to go to college and knew the academic world wasn’t for her. Gus said he could get her a job at Steve’s Ice Cream, so at the age of 19, Rancatore left St. Louis for an ice cream job, and she continues that tradition to this day – though she and her brother have pretty much climbed to the top of the East Coast Ice Cream world.
Toscanini’s has a truly incredible following, with several Best of Boston awards and numerous Top 10 lists – with the New York Times once calling it the best ice cream on the planet.
The most popular flavor in the store is the B3, a concoction of brown sugar, brownies, browned butter and burnt caramel.
“The most popular flavor is B3 and has been for awhile,” she said. “Right now, our chocolate is outselling vanilla. It didn’t used to be that way, but now the two have reversed in popularity. My personal favorite is malted vanilla, but we are doing some very exciting things with our new soft serve offerings, including a twist of chocolate rum banana with malted vanilla.”
Rancatore lives on Beacon Street in Chelsea and has been around long enough to see her condo go from very desirable to very undesirable and the, back to desirable. She serves on the Chelsea Cultural Council and is a big supporter of the Apollinaire Theatre and the Chelsea Girl Scouts.
She said she often thinks about the future of Broadway Chelsea and compares it to the successful climb of Central Square lately. One thing she said is there needs to be more restaurants, simple restaurants, on the stretch.
“There needs to be a go-to restaurant, something like Newbridge in Prattville,” she said. “When I imagine Broadway, that’s what I think.”
Rancatore said business is good and she relishes being able to spend her days in Cambridge and her private time in Chelsea.
“We’ve been very lucky and we’re doing very well with the business,” she said. “I love being able to work in Cambridge and go home to where I live in Chelsea. I really appreciate Chelsea and how in Chelsea the city councillors will go to all the events. You don’t get that in Cambridge so much. I think that’s great. There is a real community feel to the city.”