You don’t have to ride on two wheels to be a supporter of the cycling community.
Uli Nasibova moved to Los Angeles eight years ago settling immediately in Downtown, but has also been an early adopter of getting around without a car.
She’s watched the area’s evolution closely and decided the time was right to open her own gelateria (Uli’s Gelateria) inside the Spring Street Arcade.
Uli doesn’t have to bike to work living just a block away, but she is a strong supporter of LACBC’s Business Partnership Program, offering discounts to all of our members.
We asked Uli about her experiences living car free, the linkage between cycling and coffee, and her husband’s adventures cycling around Los Angeles:
Are you originally from Los Angeles?
I am originally from Azerbaijan. I was an international student at Colorado College in Colorado Springs studying french literature and mathematical economics-double major. And that’s where I met my husband actually.
Did you come directly out of school to LA?
Ryan did. So Ryan, after graduating from Colorado College, got an internship at the LA Weekly. So he came directly to Los Angeles and I followed him a year later. So he’s been here 9 years and he’s been here 8 years.
Were you excited to move to Los Angeles?
I was not excited to move to Los Angeles. It’s a tough city because of all the driving you have to do and it is tough to fall in love with it. But when we moved downtown, which was in 2008, we quickly fell in love with the city because there was a sense of community down here. It’s a lot denser. You can walk to places as opposed to getting in the car and getting on the freeway.
So you moved down here before everything started taking off?
Yes, I mean no. Technically, it was already taking off. We were part of like the 3rd wave. What you see today is probably like the 5th or 6th wave of residents. There were already a lot creatives, artist types, entrepreneurs down here.
So your skill for making gelato started off as a hobby?
Yes, 4 years ago. Started off in our apartment kitchen. I had a commercial grade gelato machine and I was experimenting on our recipes.
Is it a long process to create gelato?
Yes, on a commercial level, if you want your recipes to be good and stable and good texture, in addition to good taste, it takes years. So the fact that it took me 2 years, I got lucky with something I was good at.
What sparked you to start a business? It must have been intimidating to decide, “Hey, I’m just going to start selling gelato?”
So, I’ve always known that since the first day I started working for somebody, I knew I was going to have my own business. I didn’t know it was going to be gelato. Gelato just came to me. It was intimidating. It was also very difficult. But I believe that if you just keep at it and keep trying, eventually it becomes easier.
An endless landscape of mouth-drooling gelato.
So now that you have been doing this for awhile, what have you learned, not just about making gelato, but from being a business owner?
Small businesses are very difficult. The fact that we celebrated our two-year anniversary two weeks ago is a big deal because statistically, most businesses fail by their first anniversary and very few of them then survive. And of the ones that survive, even fewer make it to their second anniversary. You know a lot of times you hear politicians talk about how this country is built on small business owners. I think to an extent that is true, but it’s also maybe one of the most difficult jobs I have ever had in my life. It never stops. Now that I have a baby I’m still, baby in one arm and doing other things. Whether it’s payroll, recipe creation, farmers’ market or bookkeeping.
Being downtown, what are some of your favorite places to eat?
The beauty of Downtown is that you can have fine dining type establishments and you can also have taco stands – so the range is really wide. One of my most favorite places to eat is Baco Mercat on Main St. It’s Chef Joseph Centeno’s restaurant. On the other end of the spectrum, there is Guisados – fast, casual, delicious tacos, affordable price point. And everything in between.
Since 2008, being downtown, what has changed the most here?
More businesses, more people, larger residential population, and the Spring St. bike lane. The green lane didn’t exist before. I’m seeing a lot more people take public transportation. I’ve been taking public transportation in LA since the day I moved here. And some people used to make fun of me because I used to work in finance in Century City and I used to catch the 728, the Olympic Express. It was amazing. I remember my co-workers would just get a kick out of the fact that I was taking the bus to work. And then slowly there was one more person in the office taking the bus, then 2 more, and 3 more and then eventually, I knew it was catching on.
You use public transportation, but your husband loves to cycle?
My husband loves cycling around LA. In his opinion, it is a fantastic cycling city. Mt. Baldy, all over Griffith Park, a lot of great trails.
And because you serve artisan coffee, do you get a number of cyclists that stop by?
Cyclists and coffee have a high correlation. I find that a lot of people that ride their bikes love good coffee. I don’t know why. At some point, the two popular cultures – the bike people and the coffee people – intertwined.