A local ice cream parlor is gaining a national presence.
By ROSA MERCADO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Bill Cosby loves it. Celebrities from Tom Cruise to former president Gerald Ford have had it.
It's so good that Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, named it one of the top 10 ice cream parlors in the country in USA Today last month.
The success of Handel's Homemade Ice Cream and Yogurt was honored yesterday when Mayor George McKelvey proclaimed Aug. 1 "Handel's Day." Area Handel's employees attended the ceremony at the shop's original location on Youngstown's South Side.
"I think it's a tremendous honor," said company owner Leonard Fisher. "With USA Today being such a national publication, it's a wonderful thing -- we love it."
Even though celebrities like Cosby have the ice cream shipped to them, Fisher said that without the support of Youngstown customers, the store wouldn't be where it is today. "Without them, we're nothing -- it's that simple."
He added that the positive recognition is good for the Mahoning Valley. "It's about time that Youngstown got some good publicity instead of bad publicity with everything that's going on in this area," said Fisher, who has owned the company since 1985. "Now we have something to be proud of."
Fisher is enthusiastic about expanding Handel's nationally. He hopes to open at least 100 more stores within the next five years. Handel's currently has 24 stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
Handel's chief operating officer, Jim Brown, said 10 to 15 stores will open in the next year. The next location is set for Austintown, he said.
A long history
The first Handel's was opened in 1945 by Alice Handel. Looking for something to do with the strawberries she grew, she opened an ice cream stand at her husband's gas station. As her homemade strawberry ice cream became popular, the menu expanded. When Fisher bought the business from Handel, who died in 1987, he made sure that the ice cream continued to be made using her original recipes.
It's that Handel's recipe that's made Mayor McKelvey a fan all his life. He said his mother would take him to the small stand as a baby.
"I was just at Handel's last night with my mother, who's 82 years old and still the Handel's fan," said McKelvey as he ate a rapidly melting, double-scoop cone of Handel's signature chocolate pecan ice cream. Does he like it a little too much? "My wife will kill me for this -- I'm on a diet."