Next month, Brighton’s award-winning Boho Gelato will celebrate their tenth birthday. Nick Mosley talks to master gelato maker Seb Cole about the popular business.

SEB COLE’S route to making ice cream was an unusual one. Originally from a printing background, Seb often found himself in Italy signing off print proofs, leading to a lot of gelato eating in his time off.

It struck him that the quality of milk in Sussex was really high, so after attending a course to learn the art, he invested in equipment and set up Boho Gelato in Pool Valley in 2010.

Since then, the company has expanded considerably with two shops in Brighton and also Worthing and Weymouth. They also supply to many local restaurants, including bespoke flavours that Seb works on with the chefs.

With business booming, the lockdown hit Seb and the team hard, just as they were ramping up production for the start of the tourism season.

“It was a massive shock,” said Seb. “It could not have happened at a worse time of year for us cashflow-wise as we had barely come out of the off-season and we had no way of supporting 15 staff without any income.

“All of our wholesale orders completely disappeared overnight. Even though the Government guidelines have always allowed for takeaway food outlets to remain open in the right conditions, I thought the correct thing for us to do was to close our shops until we felt that it would be safe for both our customers and staff.”

Initially redundancies seemed inevitable so Seb is thankful for the furlough scheme and also the retail grant offered to small businesses.

“Once the furlough scheme was announced that gave me breathing room to know our team would be OK in the short term until the business would be able to support them again,” he said. “Thankfully I have currently made no redundancies at all. I’ve been able to just get my head down and do what I can to make sure we are on the best footing for the future.”

During the lockdown, Seb focused on increasing home delivery both in conjunction with Pizzaface and on his own.

“I decided to test the water to see if I could do home deliveries so I put a post on our social media expecting to get 30 or 40 orders,” said Seb. “I got around 150.

“I didn’t have any infrastructure at all. It was crazy and I don’t know quite how I managed to do that first run.

“I had to manually reply to all the emails, check the bank for payments and then make and deliver all the ice cream orders myself.

“It has really helped our cashflow in comparison to doing nothing and I’ve enjoyed seeing how its cheered people up in the lockdown when they get their delivery.”

Seb opened the doors of the shops at the end of May, when he was confident social distancing could be put in place for staff and customers.

“The shops in Pool Valley and Weymouth are both back open now for takeaway and we have various social distancing measures in place,” he said.

“Only two customers from the same group are allowed in the shop at a time and we have marked a queuing system outside.

“So far we haven’t had any crazy queuing going on... it’s been quite steady and not too busy at any one time, with customers respecting each other and our system. People are coming throughout the day rather than most between 3pm and 5pm which is usually our busiest time.”

Tourism is worth around £1.1 billion to the Brighton and Hove economy, so the closure of food and drink businesses has the potential for devastating consequences but Seb remains optimistic that most will survive.

“If businesses are not able to open again in some kind of profitable form before the end of the summer, that long hard winter is going to bite, he said.

“But I think that whatever happens Brighton will bounce back, and when that happens it will bring along new ideas, products and talent with it.”

Despite all the negatives of lockdown, Seb says he has also had positive experiences for the business.

“Certainly the demand for home delivery has really been an eye opener and I will definitely be carrying that on into the future,” he said. “I’m not really sure why I never did it before. I guess it's a bit like why I’d never Zoomed… although I’d still really rather meet in the pub.”