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Have You Met?

On the patio of the “cool” gelato Italiano cafe, Gelazzi, on Larimer Square, Jeffrey Hill, President of Gelazzi was looking pretty cool and comfortable himself as we drank our Energy Gelato - with Acai (the healthiest berry on the planet) - smoothies.

Mr. Hill told me, that as of a month ago, he is now officially a Denver resident after coming and staying here often for several years.

With Jeff Hill’s amplified life at this time, he’s riding high with many successful business ventures under his belt. He’s also a partner in various other businesses and is now a major investor in “Shine” the first luxury lifestyle magazine for Denver's savvy that will contain oversized pages featuring the most discerning topics and will be the indispensable guide to the best that the mile-high city has to offer in the worlds of fashion, beauty, design, society, arts & entertainment, dining and travel.

One of the things especially dear to Jeff is his foundation, the “Jeffrey M. Hill Foundation” which he started several years ago to help provide funds for uninsured kids needing specialized surgeries. Jeff had club feet as a child and had to endure many painful surgeries of his own.

Jeff loves how welcoming and friendly the people of Denver are; and he believes that Denver is in the process of becoming a major metropolitan city. Mr. Hill is also actively involved with AIPAC (American Israel Political Affairs Committee) which for more than half a century, has worked to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong. Jeff says: “AIPAC makes sure that the people running for office understand the Israeli issues and what they have to deal with.” AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement described by The New York Times as "The most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."

As a child, Jeffrey Hill didn’t have it easy. His strength - and courage - was built out of his own personal pain and experience. There’s no stopping this powerhouse of a guy now. Jeff is high-energy, astute, and accomplished, and he seems to have the magic touch when it comes to business.

Jeffrey Hill’s credibility and sincerity is palpable, and he’s destined and committed to making great things happen in his new home state of Colorado.

When did you start coming to Colorado? I officially became a Colorado resident about 4 weeks ago. I’ve been coming to Denver to stay for long periods of time for a couple of years. I grew up in the Boston area, and lived in Connecticut for over 20 years.

Tell us about the “Jeffrey M. Hill Foundation”? It’s a foundation I created that is designed to pay for uninsured kids to have the same kind of operations I had when I was a kid. I had a very serious case of club feet, and I was basically unable to walk. I had total reconstructive surgery on my feet. I went from a size 1 shoe to a size 8 in one day. I had to completely re-learn how to walk, so I was in the hospital for an awful long time. I started the Foundation when I sold my business, Meridian Consulting (a strategic think tank), in 2000. I’m now bringing the Foundation to Colorado. For the last 2 years, I’ve done some very exciting and successful events; and I am looking forward to bringing those events here.

You have been a major investor in several other businesses, can you mention some of them? Sure, the Noodles & Company Restaurant chain, and Papa Murphy’s Pizza Restaurants – which now have over 1,100 units.

How did you get involved with Gelazzi? My partner and our CEO, Jan Horsfall, loved the Gelato business, and said if you get into it with me, I’ll buy one. Jan is a Colorado State University Alumni, and he wanted to get back to Colorado. He picked the Denver location and the Fort Collins location; and I realized we could be on to something good.

What’s the key to the success of Gelazzi? Our gelato is freshly prepared each morning, and we use only authentic, imported ingredients which are literally the best in the world – with no trans fats in our product line. We are always bringing in new gelato flavors. We are extremely customer-service oriented, and we have a great staff. It’s all about quality products, good training and development and having an excellent operations plan.

What’s the best way to get input from Gelazzi customers? We actually talk with customers right before they leave and get their feedback and comments about the experience they just had at Gelazzi.

What are your future plans for Gelazzi? We have plans to expand into various other Colorado markets such as: Boulder, the Denver Tech Center, Highlands Ranch, Park Meadows – and we are also looking at expanding into other markets such as in Phoenix, and Tucson. Our goal is to have roughly 50 stores in 3 years.

What do you read on a regular basis to stay informed? I read Trade Press Magazines such as “Nation’s Restaurant News” - and to keep up with the business news, I read the “Wall Street Journal” and “Barrons.”

You mentioned that you have enjoyed reading several books written by/or about individuals who started out small and built major entities; what are the titles of the books? “Pour Your Heart Into It.”, By Howard Shultz, the creator of Starbucks; “I-Con Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business” by Jeffrey S. Young & William L. Simon; and I gave a copy of the book, “Hug Your Customer” by Ed Mitchell to all of my employees. I like reading about people who started with almost nothing.

After becoming successful, how does one keep their ego in check? I’m a lot less “bold’ than I was before, because I’m much more grounded and comfortable with myself now and with what I’ve accomplished. Once I get the Foundation going here, I know I will continue to get more pleasure out of giving back than I do out of anything else.

How do you measure success? No matter where you are, there is always someone ahead of you, who has done more, and has more. It’s harder to live in an environment where everyone is climbing to get ahead. There seems to be a lot less of that here in Denver than there was back East. The best way to compete seems to be if you challenge yourself to succeed.

You just became a major investor in the new Colorado magazine “Shine”, can you tell us more about it? Yes, I put some serious horsepower into this venture. We are totally reinventing the magazine – which used to be called “Bloom”. We hired Dahlia Weinstein, the former Society Editor of the Rocky Mountain News, as our Editor, and the first issue will come out in August.

What do you love most about Denver besides the great climate and the mountains? This town really pulls together; it’s a very inclusive city. Everyone goes out of their way to invite you places, and they encourage you to participate. In the East, it seems like people are more exclusive and close to the vest. You need to know someone, who knows someone, to be included in events, etc. In Denver everyone seems to know about events that are taking place – especially because of having something like Blacktie-Colorado around. You offer a wonderful service to the community.

Tell us about “Give Back Friday”? We close the company one Friday a month, but we ask the employees to work, and we pay them their regular salary. They can’t work on the company business, but they do work for a philanthropic organization instead. They all get something out of it, and many of our Gelazzi employees are involved on an ongoing basis with non-profit organizations.

You mentioned you like to travel, and that you have been to many places. What’s your next big trip abroad? My oldest daughter is going to school in Shanghai for a semester, and I am going to meet her there, and we are going to spend time in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I’m very excited to be going there; but on the other hand, I can’t help but think about the friends of my brother (he’s 3 years older than me) who died there during the Vietnam War. I’m excited though that I’ll be spending time with my daughter. I’m also into photography, so I will be taking lots of pictures.

How would you describe your childhood? I had one brother and one sister, and we had a small house with one bathroom. We then moved to another house just because it had an additional ½ bathroom, and that was a big deal to us.

It was a wonderful childhood. Very simple. We lived in a small neighborhood, rode our bikes to each others houses, and the houses were very close to each other. If you wanted to talk to your neighbor, you just went outside and called his name, and he came out. A little different from how my children grew up in Connecticut on a 6 acre home.

What song makes you want to get up and dance? “Old Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers.

Where do you like to go for entertainment in Denver? I love to listen to jazz music, and I go to Jack’s and Alto’s. I like the group Dotsero that plays at Jack’s, and Nelson Rangell who plays at Alto’s on Sunday nights. He’s a wonderful sax and flute player.

What’s some good, sound business advice you can offer? Don’t force yourself into a situation that will end up making you uncomfortable in the long run.

What has been your greatest challenge in life so far? Probably the fact that I had to have so many operations by the age of 11. My doctor at the time said: “Okay, we have operated on you now for 6 years (every 3 months), and I’m not sure what else we can do.” Then we found another doctor who said: “If you give me 2 to 3 years, I can fix your problem.” So, at age 11, we started all over again. And so I’d say, getting through all of that was my biggest challenge.

How do you want to be remembered by future generations? As someone who created a legacy of giving and making a difference through the “Jeffrey M. Hill Foundation”, and as someone who left something behind that will always be around for others. I hope my kids will participate in and continue to help make the Foundation grow. It should live on through them and beyond.