My favorite charity – Real Hope for Haiti

by Nick on December 4, 2012

I love what I do for a living. Being an entrepreneur and working with a smart, energized team is something I hope I never have to live without. Even though money isn’t my primary driver, it’s definitely one of the big things I’m motivated by. I want to make a lot more money than my family needs so that I can give generously to charities that are making a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives. The charity that I feel most connected to is called Real Hope for Haiti. It’s run by a missionary family that has been living in Haiti, selflessly serving the people there for decades. I went to college with their son, and I started donating after the Haiti quake. They  have two main humanitarian ministries in the area of Cazale, Haiti. The first is a “rescue center” for malnourished, unhealthy and abandoned children. Unfortunately there are many children that fit that description in their area. A very common problem children in Haiti have is called Kwashiorkor, which is basically a massive swelling / bloating of the body (not just the stomach) due to a lack of protein. Kids’ parents may feed them relatively well with rice, but protein is expensive and many parents are unaware of the need to provide their children with it. Kwashiorkor can be (and often is) fatal. RHFH treats the children primarily with an awesome product called “Medica Mamba” which is a fortified peanut based food product made right in Haiti, and it gets the kids back to healthy in a matter of just a few months. The changes in the children are wonderful to see.

A little boy named "Jn" after successful treatment

A little boy named "Jn" after successful treatment

The second ministry they have is treating cholera patients. In the wake of the earthquake there was a terrible outbreak of cholera all throughout Haiti. Cholera thrives in areas where clean water and good sanitation is rare, and much of Haiti’s infrastructure in that area was destroyed in the quake. When people started showing up at their clinic in mass numbers during the beginning of the outbreak they took hundreds in, made makeshift beds all throughout the facility and even outside, and did their best to treat them with hydration and medicines. They lost many to cholera due to the advanced state they were in when they arrived. Since then they have gotten a program organized around cholera treatment (it looks like cholera is going to be around for a while in Haiti) and are building a 60+ bed cholera treatment center on site. They employ many locals in as nurses and aids. They also run a weekly health clinic where locals can come for free healthcare.

All of these things are great, but what really gets me is the passion and love the family has for the children and adults they serve. Their blog posts about the many successful recoveries are so amazingly joyful, and the posts about losing people are heartbreaking. The family totally puts themselves and their experiences out there, are honest about their fears, doubts, frustrations, etc. You would do well to read some of them and learn about the problems people are facing just a few hundred miles south of our country and “meet” a family that is doing something great about it despite many setbacks.

Fair warning, some of the pictures on their blog are disturbing:

If you feel moved to give, that money will go straight to helping the people of Cazale. I feel that it is the best money I give on a regular basis, and I’m honored to be partnering with such an amazing organization. I hope to be able to continue to support them more  and more over the years.

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Dolcezza Gelato

by Nick on October 13, 2010

Dolcezza is my favorite gelato this side of the Atlantic, but when I first discovered it I was seriously annoyed.

The necessary back story…

I’ve taken several month-long trips to Italy over the years and fallen in love with many aspects of the country: the kindness and energy of the people, the beautiful places, the pace of life, the food,the wine, on and on the list goes. Each day in Italy gave me awesome experiences with one or more of these things, but there was always one constant and utterly dependable source of joy I would seek out at least once each day.

Gelato in Florence, Italy

Gelato. If you’ve never had a cold, refreshing, unbelievably flavorful cup of the real deal from Italy (preferably after having walked miles around a beautiful Italian city) then sadly you really don’t have a clue how good gelato is. The stuff that gets labeled gelato here in the US normally has as much in common with true Italian gelato as a Lean Cuisine turkey dinner has with mom’s Thanksgiving meal. Crazily enough, a lot of people still really like it compared to normal ice cream. That should give you an idea of how good the real stuff is.

During my trips to Italy I indulged my love for gelato several times a day, knowing that once I got back home the experience would once again be years and an ocean away. After returning from my first post college trip to Italy, being a budding entrepreneur I decided I had to seriously consider bringing good gelato to the states. My family owns a storefront on M Street in Georgetown, DC with a huge amount of foot traffic flowing past the doors every day, and our current tenant was less than stellar. The idea formed in my head to open America’s best gelateria in the building my Italian family has owned since the early 1900′s.

I worked out the financial model for the business and it looked totally doable and likely to be very profitable. Now, I needed a name. Something good. Something Italian. Something relevant to gelato. After racking my brain (and my Italian dictionary) for weeks I settled on the perfect name: “Dolcezza”. It means “sweetness” in Italian, sounds cool, and even has two z’s in it like my last name. Of course, I’d want to secure the trademark. So I did a quick Google search to see if there was anything related to ice cream or gelato called Dolcezza in the US, figuring it was a long shot but maybe there’d be something in California or New York City. First Google result: a gelato place in the United States. In DC? In Georgetown?! What were the odds? To add insult to injury it was a place that had just changed their name from “Isee Icy” — probably they were selling “Italian Ice”. Ugh. Taking my good name and almost certainly using it to serve an absolute travesty that they were branding as gelato, and then making it look pretty by paying a top notch photographer to do their site for them. I was seriously annoyed.

Photo from Dolcezza's Website

I figured I should make my way down there and check the place out — hopefully to gauge how long before they went out of business. Maybe they’d even sell me the name?

I walk in — the place is small but nice. The gelato looks pretty, but I’ve learned from prior US experience that means nothing. The flavors include the classics of course, but some of these names are strange… orange honey cardamom? lemon opal basil? white peach prosecco? Okay, this guy is not using mass-produced gelato mix like everyone else I’ve encountered. I try the gelato. Three flavors: my favorite combination — dark chocolate and banana, and one of the weird ones — orange honey cardamom.

Crap. It’s good. Wow.. it’s really good. Okay, this would be really good gelato in Italy.

My plans for DC gelato domination died as I finished that cup. I could never hope to compete with something this good that was so close to our storefront. The pain of that was dulled by the realization that I’d found amazing gelato, it was close to me, and I didn’t have to start a company and learn the mystical art of gelato making to get it. I had to meet the man responsible for this, and pay homage.

A few days later I did meet the owner, Robb Duncan. I gained an instant respect for his passion for creating interesting and delicious new flavors every day, from scratch, out of high quality ingredients, using state-of-the-art Italian Carpigiani gelato machines. I learned about his commitment to finding the best local farmers and getting his milk and cream from them and rotating his flavor selections to include sorbettos made out of fruits that are in season and at the height of their ripeness. He filled me in on his love for good coffee and let me try the best espresso I’d had since coming back from Italy. He even showed me some freshly made churros filled with dulce de leche and little cookies called “aflajores” from his wife Violeta’s home country of Argentina.

Dolcezza Gelato & Cappuccino

That was more than five years ago. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the shop at least once a week, and I’ve gotten to know many of the special flavors that each season brings ( fall/winter’s Apple Cider Clove and Crookneck Pumpkin… spring’s Strawberry Tarragon, Strawberries and Cream and Blackberry Cream… summer’s White Peach Prosecco, Toigo Yellow Nectarine and Red Watermelon Vodka Mint) and I’m still surprised by new ones (like this summer’s Cucumber Tarragon Gin – much better than it sounds – really refreshing actually). There are the classic non-seasonal flavors of course: the best Dulce de Leche you could ever imagine, dark and rich Valhrona Chocolate Amargo, spicy Mexican Chocolate, delicious Tiramisu, and totally decadent Peanut Butter Chocolate. The coffee is still the best I’ve found in the DC area. The pastries are delicious. The staff are incredibly friendly and put together an amazing cappuccino.

Over the years their business has been successful, and they’ve grown by adding two more locations (Bethesda Row and Dupont Circle). They’ve done it gracefully though, never over-extending their ability to find the best ingredients in season for their gelato or excellent staff to serve their customers. They’re doing an amazing thing down there and I take everyone that I can to experience it. If you find yourself in the DC area and want to try some truly great gelato, you have to pay them a visit. You won’t regret it.

[Side note: A close second to Dolcezza for quality gelato in the US is Capogir0 Gelato in Philadelphia. They have several locations throughout the city and their gelato is also freshly made out of good local ingredients and served by people who know and love what they're doing. I always make it a point to stop in when I'm in Philadelphia.]

Know any other amazing gelato places in the US? I’m always up for making a gelato stop when traveling!


Sous Vide for the Bachelor

October 12, 2010

Those of you that know me well, know that I really have a thing for good food. I love to cook great meals and I love going out to awesome restaurants. However, being a single guy I rarely get the opportunity to cook good meals for myself. The problem is, I can either cook a [...]

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New site layout – work in progress…

August 17, 2010

In the meantime, you can find me on facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can send me a message at my name with no spaces at gmail dot com.

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