A Mahoning Valley favorite has expanded to the Sunshine State through the efforts of a couple of Valley natives.
The couple’s work appears to be well received as the Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt in Bonita Springs, Fla., was rated the sixth-best ice cream shop in the United States by tripadvisor.com.
Krystle Hively Common and her husband, Lee, opened the Handel’s in Bonita Springs. The store is between Fort Myers and Naples. It opened in April 2012.
“My husband and I both grew up eating Handel’s, and there is no other ice cream like it around here,” Common said. “I can honestly say I eat it every day, and I never get tired of it.”
The couple found out about the Bonita Springs area from her parents, who would go there for the winter. Common is a Youngstown State University graduate and native of Canfield. Her husband grew up in Mineral Ridge.
The rating was based on customer reviews submitted to the website, Common said.
“I think it makes a big difference that my husband and I are there all the time. We make the ice cream, and we talk to customers,” she said.
High-school students who might work at an ice-cream shop don’t take the same care to become familiar with customers, Common said.
The long-term goal of the couple is to open a few more Handel’s in southwest Florida and to get more involved in the ice-cream social market in the area, she said.
Since opening in the area, the store has become a destination for people familiar with Handel’s, Common said.
“We have people drive here from Tampa and Orlando, which are each more than an hour away,” she said.
The area is pretty seasonal. A lot of “snowbirds” travel down there for the winter, and it’s impressive how many of them are from Ohio or the Youngstown area and are familiar with Handel’s, said Jim Brown, chief operating officer for Handel’s.
The ranking from tripadvisor.com is “not just good news for Lee and Krystle, but for our entire system,” he said. “They’ve done a really great job with the store in that market.”
The company believes that all the locations do a good job, but it’s tough to know without feedback such as the ranking, Brown said.
The couple fit in with most of the people who franchise Handel’s. About 90 percent of franchisees have some tie to the Mahoning Valley, either growing up here, living here or going to school here, he said.
Those ties are good because “they understand our philosophy and what we’re trying to do,” Brown said.
Handel’s has gone from a regional company to one that is “among the big boys” in the ice-cream industry, he said.
Handel’s has locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, California and Florida.