Her story begins with a small ice cream maker that she purchased to experiment with different recipes in the kitchen.
Family and friends raved about the ice cream Lisa Giganti was creating so much that the next thing she knew, she decided to learn all she could about becoming an entrepreneur. That’s when Sweet Sunshine Ice Cream was born.
Starting with a small budget, Giganti bought a second, third and fourth ice cream maker to join the first machine on her kitchen counter, each churning out new flavours daily.
What’s so special about Giganti’s ice cream?
It’s made in small batches with high-quality natural ingredients and mixed with lots of love and a passion for creating a dessert that everyone can eat.
You can’t tell by looking at or tasting it, but the ice cream Giganti whips up is also completely dairy-free, making it the perfect treat for people who have dairy allergies or live a meat-free lifestyle.
When her loved ones couldn’t get enough of her ice cream, Giganti knew there was a real market for the product she produces.
Growing up, dairy products were not given often in the Giganti household because Lisa’s brother is lactose intolerant. A bowl of ice cream was a very rare treat for her on special occasions.
As early as 14, Giganti stopped eating meat herself and has been a vegetarian for more than 20 years. Becoming vegan a few years ago was a natural progression for her.
Perhaps one of the biggest moments that shaped her life and ultimately led to her decision to eat a plant-based diet happened when Giganti was about three-years-old.
A big ice storm hit one night and covered a tree in her backyard in a large sheet of ice. The weight of the ice was causing the tree to bend and crack.
“I remember my mom said we had to help the tree and it’s like something awakened in me. I realized everything is connected and we have to help whenever possible.”
Giganti recalls a grade school trip to Marineland she decided not to take with her classmates. She knew that she didn’t want to go, and in her heart, it felt wrong. So, her mother allowed her to instead stand outside with a sign that read “Please don’t go in,” becoming a protester before she ever knew what the word ‘protest’ even meant.
“For me, when I pieced together that I eat the animals I was trying to help, it didn’t make sense. I started eliminating them from my own meals.”
If you asked her five or six years ago if it was possible to start the first vegan and vegetarian-friendly ice cream business in the Niagara region, Giganti explains, “I would have said it’s impossible.”
“I think as people are becoming more health conscious of what they are eating, the vegan market has really upped its game. There’s pizza, sausages, perogies. Anything can be vegan nowadays.”
On the quest to find a dairy-free solution to satisfy a long-time craving for ice cream, Giganti began playing around with different recipes she found online.
She selected coconut-based recipes because it makes the final product creamier. After searching thousands of recipes and trying three or four to get it right, she found one that worked.
Giganti started small, making custom options in her kitchen, offering eight flavours including vanilla, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, maple walnut, chocolate raspberry and s’mores.
Her favourite, though, is Banana Bread, which was always a staple in her grandparents’ house.
“My grandma would always make it and it reminds me of her house.”
Giganti says she likely inherited her love of cooking and baking from her grandmother.
“I mix that with a love of seeing people happy and making people smile. Ice cream fits in there perfectly,” she said.
“Everyone knows sweets are definitely my thing.”
Creating new flavours and getting the taste right is a challenge though.
The biggest challenge so far? Giganti says a customer asked for Nanaimo Bar ice cream.
“It can be interesting trying to find ways to make flavours into vegan options. The more challenging it is, the more rewarding it is, though.”
Giganti is as sweet as the ice cream she makes. As a child, Giganti was “always really happy,” which is why family and friends often called her Sunshine. That happy attitude is something she’s carried with her into adulthood, so when it came time to name the business, Sweet Sunshine made sense.
Her business is still very young —just over a year and a half old—but Giganti’s success continues to grow with more than 5,000 gallons of ice cream made and sold. It’s already being sold at 14 locations including shops and restaurants in Niagara and one location in Toronto.
“For me, it’s not about going to big too fast,” Giganti explains.
The ice cream maker’s philosophy is for the business to take on a life of its own, growing at a steady pace she can keep up with.
Some days, the entrepreneur admits she feels like she could throw the scoop out the window and close-up shop.
Giganti turned the Port Colborne home she rents from family members into her business, complete with professional kitchen, and recently upgraded her home ice cream makers to an industrial machine.
Giving up her personal space to the business, Giganti calls a parked RV in her driveway home. It’s cosy and comfortable, and she shares it with her dog.
It isn’t easy, but Giganti wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Sometimes it can feel like a constant brain freeze. But the passion is there,” she says.
“I love it so much and that’s what keeps me going.”
Giganti says her business is growing, and her goal is to one day have a factory in Port Colborne where she could hire local people to work for her.
As a woman in business, she said there is a lot of opportunities to succeed if you’re willing to work for it.
“Women are not being told they can’t do things anymore so the opportunity is there. I think now is the time to stand up, and take charge.”
Giganti admits there are times when she doesn’t feel like she’s taken seriously as a business owner.
“Where I live and work though, I feel like there’s a lot of other business women in the community and we support each other,” she says.
“It kind of feels like we’re building a tribe and we support each other in what we love to do.”
Ever the animal activist, Giganti donates a portion of her proceeds to Grey’s Haven Farm Sanctuary in Port Colborne to promote vegan and healthy lifestyles.
It’s important for her to use her business in any way possible to support her love of animals.
“It’s my true passion, and I think that it’s important to work from a place of love,” she says.
“It’s important that you trust yourself and know in your heart that it’s something right.”