CANFIELD, Ohio (WYTV) – It was 70 years ago this month that Alice Handel started making ice cream out of her husband’s gas station at the corner of Market Street and Midlothian Boulevard in Youngstown.
It was Alice that started the Handel’s legend, but it was Lenny Fisher that turned the little south side ice cream stand into an empire.
The Handel’s corporate headquarters sits in a nondescript building amidst an office park in Canfield. No ice cream is made there.
Inside, Handel’s owner Lenny Fisher reminisced about a fundraiser WYTV 33 News anchor Stan Boney once helped him with as they stood in the lobby surrounded by clippings documenting 30 years of Fisher’s success. He is most proud of National Geographic’s book “10 Best of Everything” that lists Handel’s as number one in the ice cream category.
“Ice cream is recession proof. When times are bad, you want to get an ice cream cone to feel good about yourself. When times are good, you get two cones,” Fisher said.
Fisher arrived in Youngstown from Brooklyn, New York in 1975. He owned sub shops for a few years, then bought and sold gold and silver.
In 1984, he met Alice Handel and a year later, she asked him to buy her ice cream store.
“I said, ‘OK. Why don’t you loan me the money?’ So they not only sold me the business, they financed the business because I didn’t have the money at the time. And the rest is history,” Fisher said.
He said for the first month and a half he had the business, Alice Handel would not let him make ice cream. He just helped her.
The Creekside Handel’s was the third store Lenny Fisher opened after buying the original. Today, there are 37 Handel’s across the United States: 23 are in Ohio, including Youngstown, Cleveland, Akron, Columbus and Toledo. There are six in Pennsylvania, with four of them in Pittsburgh. There are two in Indiana, one in Virginia, one in Florida, three in California and the newest one in Las Vegas.
“Like in California, that is as far away as you can get from Youngstown. Our store there is going to do $1.2 million this year. And that is just ice cream,” Fisher said.
There are plans to open two more in California, and someone wants to open five locations in Arizona. Fisher thinks the Carolinas would work, too. How big can Handel’s get?
“If you get to 100, that is a lot of stores. It depends on the aggravation level. Right now, everybody in the office, they know their job and they do it very well. And if you get too big, sometimes you lose sight of that, you lose sight of the family-run business,” he said.
Fisher’s favorite flavors are chocaholic chunk and pineapple sherbet with whip cream. Fisher himself comes up with all the flavors, with his more recent being bananas foster.
“Every flavor she had at the time is the same recipe. But we have introduced probably 100 new flavors. But everything, like the chocolate pecan number one around here, will never change. Nothing ever changes,” Fisher said.
Fisher said up next for Handel’s is an ice cream sandwich that will be sold at large venues like stadiums and amusement parks. He said no one in the world has it.