On a recent trip to Italy, restaurateur and self-admitted foodie Pete Moceo admired the country's gelaterias — not just for the ice cream but for the design of the more chi-chi shops. How, he wondered, could he translate the ambiance — and the idea of flavorful treats — to the United States?

By selling rice pudding, of course.

This spring, Moceo opened Rice to Riches in New York's downtown Nolita neighborhood, serving up 18 flavors of rice pudding — sesame, pear, cantaloupe, mango and chocolate, for example. He's betting enough people will pay $4.95 a bowl to give him the cash he needs to expand the concept outside New York and build a wholesale business serving restaurants.

Whether the U.S. is ready for a rice-pudding fix is unclear. But customers have been seen lining up at the rice-themed shop (the window is shaped like a grain of rice) at lunchtime.

The path from Rice to Riches didn't go smoothly. Finding a landlord for his small space (under 1,000 square feet) was difficult, for example. “When I told them I was opening a store to sell rice pudding, they said, ‘You better pay all the rent up front.’”

Moceo is out to prove them wrong.