Fassi’s Ice Cream shop

The famous Palazzo del Freddo in Via Principe Eugenio was founded in 1928 by Giovanni Fassi, a brilliant homemade ice cream entrepreneur who, at a cost of over a million lire, a huge investment for the period, established the single headquarters of his company in this up-and-coming neighbourhood of Rome. It covered 700 square metres, 200 for the shop and 500 for the workshop where its famous homemade ice cream was produced. The renowned architect Gustavo Vannini, who was entrusted with the restoration project, chose a predominantly Art Nouveau style for the building with some Umbertine touches, in keeping with the nearby Piazza Vittorio. The ice cream shop thus became a fashionable place, patronized by the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and the poet Trilussa.

Giovanni’s father Giacomo, originally from Piedmont, and his mother Giuseppina, from Palermo, had opened a small “ice shop” in 1880 selling beer and sorbets in the centre of Rome, a short distance from Piazza Barberini. But it was Giovanni who chose to specialize in ice cream, even spending some time at the court of the King of Italy, as “ice cream maker to the king”. His experience here ended when Giovanni refused to cut off his beloved moustache following an order imparted to the entire kitchen staff, preferring to step down and become an entrepreneur instead.

After a short period in Piazza Navona and then in the Sallustiano district, the ice cream shop finally reached its present location on the Esquiline, starting a career full of fantasy and success. Some of the company’s most famous products were created in these years and bear the name of the founders; they include “cassata Giuseppina”, “Ninetto” the ice cream on a stick, an ancestor of the ice-lolly, but also the “Caterinette”, parfaits dedicated to the emancipated women of Sartena devoted to St. Catherine. Another key invention was the “telegelato Giuseppina”, the first takeaway ice cream, protected by a layer of dry ice and balls of cork inside a pressed cardboard package, which kept the ice cream cold for up to 48 hours: its reputation was such that the aviator Italo Balbo ordered large quantities during his time as governor of Libya in 1934. During World War II, the Palazzo del Freddo was forced first to limit its production to fruit ices alone, given the chronic shortage of eggs and butter, and then to close because sugar was impossible to find. The ice cream shop thus became a food store for the canteens serving displaced persons and was even stormed by the crowds on 4 June 1944, the day of the liberation of Rome. In the following years, the American Red Cross requisitioned it to make ice cream for the troops. In 1946, when the occupation ended, the industrial machinery sold to him by Giovanni Fassi allowed the engineer Alfredo Wisner of the American Red Cross to found what later became Algida, the most famous Italian company making industrial ice cream: invited to join the company, Giovanni flatly refused to abandon his own production of homemade ice cream. Even today Palazzo del Freddo is still the historic ice cream shop of the Esquiline, with its unchanged 1930s décor and the specialities that have made the brand a symbol for the Romans.