British Columbia

Heated family feud threatens world-class Vancouver gelato business

Bitter acrimony has soured a sweet Vancouver gelato venture, but insiders say the $3 million-a-year business won't melt down despite ongoing bankruptcy protection proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court.

“There is no intention to shut down,” says sole director of Bella Gelateria

Passions are running high behind the scenes of a Vancouver ice-treat business that's going bankrupt despite making millions. (Bella Gelateria/Facebook)

Bitter acrimony has soured a sweet Vancouver gelato venture, but insiders say the $3 million-a-year business won't melt down, despite ongoing bankruptcy protection proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court.

"There is no intention to shut down," said Anna Coleridge, sole director of Bella Gelateria Gelato Inc., who maintains she is just attracting "new investment," by putting up the assets of the business for public sale after filing for bankruptcy protection.

"We are just restructuring our debt. It's bringing on investments and leaving no stone unturned," she said.

The company's assets, including three locations — 1001 West Cordova Street, 1089 Marinaside Crescent and one in Olympic Village on False Creek — are now listed for sale. Pacific M&A and Business Broker's Ltd., which is overseeing the sale, said there has been overwhelming interest in the process that ends Aug. 28.

James Coleridge shows what goes into Bella Gelateria's Coast to Coast gelato: (L to R) spirulina, pistachios, sea salt, candy sauce, lime zest, (not pictured) vanilla beans and kelp. (CBC)

The popular gelateria is being offered up to bidders as a series of 16 parts or assets including the brand name, the three locations and leases.

But the personality at the heart of the West Cordova gelateria says he won't be a part of the business plan anymore.

"I will survive this," said a sobbing James Coleridge in an emotional phone interview.

Despite once winning gold medals in Italy for "World's Best Gelato," the co-founder and self-described "crazy Willy Wonka" says he can no longer invent gelato flavours as he's been cut out of most of the business operations after his estranged wife took over as company director.

"That's been taken away from me," said Coleridge. He blames his business troubles on a family feud, but he's also facing at least one lawsuit against him by Thai investor Salim Jiwa, who says he's owed $222,187.

James Coleridge was branded as a 'zany' flavour inventor behind the gelato that made millions for Bella Gelateria. (Bella Gelateria/Facebook)

Bankruptcy protection

The Coleridges both say they have been separated for years.

They each hold half the shares of the company, which generates $3.7-million in annual revenue, according to court documents.

James says he agreed to name Anna sole director of the company in December 2016 when the company filed bankruptcy protection, unable to pay staff wages, believing her family would invest if he agreed to step down as co-director.

Master gelatier James Coleridge and his protege Salvatore Boccarossa pose with a tub of their gelato. (Bella Gelateria)

But a few months ago, he says his social media accounts were cut off and his estranged partner made the decision to cut him out of business decisions.

James says it was a surprise when the business was put up for sale. He says he will move on to a new life, unsure if it will involve gelato.

For her part, Anna refused to talk about the process but said the corporate restructuring is "just about bringing investment in."

She said she remains legally married to James and refuses to discuss "painful" personal matters further to protect the couple's two young children.

"Bella is a fixture that I co-founded 7 ½ years ago. It's doing the right thing for the business to keep it strong."

James, a former White Rock city councillor, says he once survived five days stranded on Mount Logan, so the sale of Bella Gelateria won't crush him.

His recent special mention at the Gelato World Tour Challenge in New York City in May, he said, is bittersweet.

"I'm not developing flavours. I'm not being creative. She's taken that away from me. And that's what made the company what it is."