How this single mom went from serving overseas to opening her own gelato shop

Thereasa Black serves up more than sweets at Amore Congelato.

ByDan Toomey via logo
December 28, 2020, 4:00 AM

This gelato shop isn't only known for its healthy take on the popular dessert. It's also owned by a female Black veteran.

Thereasa Black is the founder and CEO of Amore Congelato, a Virginia-based gelato shop that prides itself on using healthy ingredients. Inside its doors, date sweetener and coconut sugar replace cane sugar, some flavors are packed with 24 grams of protein and oat milk is offered.

Black, who plans to change the name of her business to Bon Appésweet, opened shop last December just before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the United States. While thousands of local businesses were forced to close down, she stayed optimistic.

"Honestly, I'm not afraid at all. It's crazy to say, right?" she told "Good Morning America." "Because my product, people love it and people are going to buy it."

Being a small business owner during the pandemic is hardly the first challenge Black has faced. As a single mother, Black woman, Navy veteran, author and law school graduate, she is all too familiar with overcoming challenges.

PHOTO: Thereasa Black is pictured with her daughter Isabella at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
Thereasa Black is pictured with her daughter Isabella at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
Courtesy Chris Sherwood

Black grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where she said she experienced discrimination at a young age. She remembers elementary school teachers excluding her from advanced classes despite her good grades, being the only girl on the football team and getting chased down the street by two white men in a pickup truck one night.

"My drive comes from a place of pain -- a place where I cannot let other people define who I'm going to be," she said. "When your whole life is people telling you that you're not enough, you have to prove everybody wrong."

Black went to college and joined the Navy. After a few tours of service, she enrolled at George Washington Law School to become a public defender.

Black became pregnant with her daughter during her third year at George Washington. She said the father didn't want to be in the picture, but Black still had Isabella and finished school in 2017, documenting her progress through a series of YouTube videos called "Single, Pregnant & in Law School."

Then, the week after completing her bar exam, she was called back into service and had to leave Isabella at home with her cousin, Vaughn Black. She packed her bags, baked her daughter an ice cream cake for her birthday and kissed Isabella goodbye.

She had heard of how hard distant military parenting can be and braced for being oceans away from her 2-year-old.

"None of the roadblocks I've hit, and none of the hurdles I've had to go over, compared to what I did during that deployment," she said.

Despite crying in bed every night, Black called home daily.

"There was a handful of days, and when I say handful, I mean you could count them on one hand, when Thereasa missed it," said Vaughn Black. "The effort I saw from her, from another country, a lot of the times I see none of that from people that live right in the same neighborhood."

After six months overseas, Black knew that returning to be a lawyer would only make her too busy to spend time with her daughter. Whatever she would end up doing, it had to be about Isabella.

Interested in entrepreneurship, she bounced business ideas off family and friends before deciding on gelato -- a reminder of the ice cream cake she made for Isabella.

Not only would she cook all of Isabella's meals from scratch, given her daughter's soy allergies, but she also baked cookies for her fellow sailors overseas.

Black read up on the chemistry of making gelato while on deployment and signed up for a formal gelato class. By July 2019, she was selling her recipes in farmer's markets. Five months later, Amore Congelato opened as a brick-and-mortar store.

In between raising Isabella, running the store and often working past midnight, she still finds time to talk to employees about entrepreneurship, motivation and being a Black woman in America.

"She's kind of one of the few Black female adult role models I have in my life, "said Syndey Darko, a server at Amore Congelato. "Talking to her and having someone who understands what I've been through, like, literally in my position … it's extremely refreshing."

Black also uses her path in life to influence her dessert.

Each pint container is designed with "stay woke" messages written on the side. Black wrote these blurbs when she first opened to educate customers on topics such as discriminatory cash bail requirements and underfunded public defenders.

By the time major corporations released advertisements supporting the George Floyd protests last summer, Black had been relaying these messages for an entire year.

"It all started around the peak of the protests … but Thereasa's always had that," said Darko. "I never felt like she was doing this to show that she's progressive."

Today, Black has reached levels of success many businesses wish for in their 5-year-plan. Earlier this year, Black earned support from major names like Stacy's Pita Chips, Beyoncé's Beygood Impact Fund and the Washington Football Team's Shop Black Initiative.

But Black can't afford to stop there. She and her daughter still use health insurance from the military, which she can only stay on if she remains eligible for redeployment -- something she wants to avoid at all costs to stay with Isabella.

"The thing that drives me, honestly, is the fact that I cannot leave my daughter again," Black said.

While partnerships with larger distributors and grocery stores are on the horizon, Black is focused on spreading her message.

"While you may think, 'Oh, it's only ice cream, how are you trying to change the world using gelato?' The answer is on all of my pints," she said.