Arpad Repka, owner of Dulce Artisan Gelato in Woodstock, serves award-winning Italian gelato to a customer. (Manuel Lugo/Fresh Take Georgia)

“Everything is made from scratch, this is how they do it in Italy,” said Arpad Repka, owner of Dulce Artisan Gelato in Woodstock, as he gazed over the newly expanded outdoor area of his store, where customers can enjoy an authentic taste of homemade Italian gelato.

“My wife Csilla grew up in a family where the sweets and baking are common, I learned how to make gelato from her,” said Repka.

The couple moved from Slovakia to Georgia in 2000 after stumbling across the metro Atlanta city while traveling the nation. Seven years later, Arpad and Csilla opened their first gelato shop in Woodstock. 

“In 2007, we realized that it would be a good time to start,” Repka said.  

Unfortunately, 2007 marked the year of the Great Recession. The economic crisis was caused by a crash in the housing market which left many individuals unemployed and reduced how often people spent their money.  

“When the housing market crashed, that was probably the hardest time for us as far as the business goes,” said Repka. “We had to close, unfortunately, we had no customers coming. I wasn’t planning on reopening.”  

The store lay dormant in the back of their minds for a decade. However, while out for dinner one night in 2018, the couple saw a “lease available” sign on the wall of a unit on Chambers Street, a pedestrian-heavy area in downtown Woodstock. 

“My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s try it again,’” Repka said.  

They opened their store in August 2018 in the heart of downtown Woodstock, now by the name Dulce, which translates to “sweet” in Italian.  

The store quickly grew in popularity. Dulce is one of few spots in Georgia where one can enjoy authentic Italian gelato made from scratch.  

“People are able to see when we make our gelato back there,” said Repka. “How it comes out of [the] machine, you can hear the whirring, we’re mixing the flavors, bases, we’re making it, taking it out of machine, and putting it in front of our customers.” 

After only one year in its new location, Dulce won the Taste of Woodstock award for best dessert in 2019. The Taste of Woodstock is a festival where businesses in the area have an opportunity to showcase their products. Voters then decide which business has the best product depending on the category.  

“They’ve been a staple every time I go out since moving to Woodstock,” said Dulce customer Jessica Brooker. “It’s my happy place.”  

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to close. Fortunately, Repka and his family ran the shop, saving them additional labor expenses.  

“We had no employees, it was just me, my wife and my son,” says Repka. “We were able to maintain.” 

Inflation, however, became a problem for Dulce. The owners found themselves paying higher prices for ingredients such as milk and sugar.  

“Prices from our supplier went up four times already,” Repka said.  

A scoop of gelato cost $3.50 in 2018. In 2023, they sold it at $5.49 a scoop.  

“I have to keep up with the same prices as ice cream shops,” Repka said.  

“The prices are fair, I would pay more to be honest,” Brooker said. “I know he makes the gelato every day which is insane to me.” 

Though COVID-19 lockdowns lifted in 2021, the repercussions to businesses were still a threat, especially from inflation. Small businesses suffered from reduced consumer spending and fewer customers visiting the businesses. Property managers began looking for franchises that would sign long-term lease contracts, which generate more money from rent and profits. 

As a result, Kilwins, a franchise ice cream store, opened its doors next to Dulce on June 23, 2021.  

“We had five years on the lease, Kilwins had to sign for 10. The property managers were pulling more money out of that ice cream shop than from us,” said Repka. 

As the two stores operated, it would leave customers confused, making them pause for a moment to decide whether to buy gelato or ice cream.  

“I remember multiple times in downtown Woodstock seeing people look at Dulce, then look at Kilwins, then back to Dulce,” said Brooker.  

Even though the stores were not happy about operating next to each other, Dulce was once again awarded the Taste of Woodstock in 2021 for best dessert. The Repka family completed their five-year lease in 2023.  

The store found another home less than a mile from its former location, but construction was not completed by the time the lease ended. Again, Dulce faced another challenge. 

“It was June 2023, construction was still going on and I had no place to go yet,” said Repka.  

The store did not reopen until Aug. 12, 2023, leaving customers like Brooker relieved as she thought they had closed.  

“I was crushed when I thought they shut down, but when we found the new location, my husband and I dropped everything and went to check it out,” she said.  

More than 350 people attended the grand opening. Its success left Repka and his family speechless.  

“You could not get the parking around here it was that full,” said Repka. “I was very happy to see all of these people.”  

Today, Dulce operates on Woodstock’s busy Dobbs Road, featuring additional parking spots and a scenic outdoor seating area.

Soon after its new location opened, Dulce won the prestigious Flavors of Georgia award for creating the first probiotic kefir gelato in the state. Flavors of Georgia is a competition amongst businesses across the state. Winning the award is considered a massive accomplishment. 

“I don’t want to be just gelato,” said Repka. “We are working to get our liquor license this year and make specialty drinks such as a lemon-lime basil sorbet-based mojito and liquor-infused nitro coffees.” 

Repka also said if alcohol is a successful addition to Dulce’s menu, authentic Neapolitan-style pizza would be his next step to expand Dulce’s menu.  

“Every time we go in, he tells me about something new,” Brooker said. “I would be so happy, places like Dulce are what make this area special.” 

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