Dolce Vita

Gelato Shop Opens In Friendly City

Posted: October 2, 2013

On Sept. 2, gelato found its way to the Friendly City when Dolce Vita opened in the Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center. (Photo by Sarah Stacy / DN-R)
To sum it up, gelato is an Italian version of ice cream. However, the milk to cream ratio and its impact on flavor distinguish one from the other. (Photo by Sarah Stacy / DN-R)
A new family run business is in town and offering a sweet treat to Harrisonburg — one not previously found in the Friendly City. Dolce Vita, which in Italian means “sweet life,” recently opened its doors, offering freshly made gelato in an abundance of flavors promising to satisfy even the pickiest taste buds.   

“I felt that there was a need for it in Harrisonburg,” owner Franco Benincasa said of the new establishment located in the Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center. Despite there being several ice cream shops in the area, none offered the Italian treat — something Franco set out to change.

Born in Italy, Franco is familiar with the restaurant business. He started Franco’s Pizza in the same plaza a decade ago, one of many restaurants he’s owned after beginning his entrepreneurship in New York.

Embarking on this new adventure, he gathered the team of his two daughters, who are also regulars in the restaurant business.

“We used to sleep on bags of flour in the back when Dad would be working late,” Maria Circosta, Franco’s daughter, said laughing, remembering the days at the pizza restaurants when she was growing up.

It was familiar territory starting a new business for Franco’s daughters, too. “I was born into [the restaurant business], so this kind of feel just comes naturally to all of us,” Tanya Benincasa, Franco’s daughter, said. “We had a lot of fun doing it.”

The sweet idea was quickly put into place. Tanya and Maria both went to New York to study at the Gelato and Pastry Institute of America, and just three months after deciding to offer this new treat to the ’Burg, the doors of Dolce Vita opened Sept. 2.

The Good Stuff
Gelato, which consists of more milk than cream, has a bolder taste and less fat than ice cream.

That intense flavor is what the owners of Dolce Vita strive for, creating a rich treat with a variety of flavors.

“When you taste [the gelato], your palette will send a message to your brain, ‘That’s what it is,’ ” Franco said.

“It’s such an intense flavor, you’ll get it right away.”

And if Franco thinks the customers wouldn’t recognize the flavor immediately, then it doesn’t get served.

The flavors change according to the season; Dolce Vita’s currently highlighting fall with pumpkin pie gelato. They’ve also been serving up flavors that customers have requested. Tanya said that because they’re not a chain, they can customize to the local population and enjoy creating new concoctions. They typically have 14-16 flavors available everyday.

The owners are proud of their product and ensure it’s always fresh, making the gelato right there in the shop. They also strive to use local products, “as much as possible, whenever possible,” Tanya said. Coffee and espresso drinks, along with a selection of pastries, are also available.  

“Come in and try it; you will not be disappointed,” Maria said.

Dolce Vita is open seven days a week, Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10p.m., Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. It is located in the Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center, 245 Burgess Road, Harrisonburg, across from Walmart Supercenter.

Contact Sarah Stacy at 574-6292 or

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