Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Frozen treat stores' owner counts on hot market

Handel's shops, with origins in Ohio, make their mark by preparing sweet offerings on site.

By Bruce C. Smith
December 15, 2004

As the weather turns cold and wintry, Greg Glaros is still thinking ice cream.

It's hardly a news scoop to say the owner of Handel's Homemade Ice Cream and Yogurt shops in Hamilton County is deep into frozen treats all year.

"It's fun, but it can be challenging, too," he said, referring to his decision to leave a career at Thompson Consumer Electronics and open the first two Indiana-franchised locations of the Ohio-based Handel's chain.

Glaros and his wife, Cindy, opened their first ice cream shop in June 2002 at 8760 E. 116th St., Fishers. She manages that location.

Last month, they opened a second location -- which he manages -- at 2466 E. 146th St., east of U.S. 31 in the Cool Creek Commons shopping center, which is under development by Kite Realty.

Competition is often tough for upstart, small, family-owned operations, and the ice cream and frozen yogurt industry is getting crowded.

Though Handel's is widely popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Glaros has several local and national competitors in Indiana, such as the Franklin-based Ritter's Frozen Custard, which has several Hamilton County shops.

Glaros said competition hasn't been a problem. As he looks for a site for a third Handel's in the metro area, he's considering locations close to Ritter's, Cold Stone Creamery and others.

"We feel our key to success is that our ice cream is all made on-site, here in the shop, and we're very methodical about how we make it and the ingredients we use," Glaros said.

"I've had people say there are almost too many pecans in our butter pecan," he joked, "but we're always making sure there are enough. You don't have to look for the nuts" or other flavor ingredients.

Nearly all of the supplies and ingredients are delivered to each of the 30 Handel's locations from a single vendor in Youngstown, Ohio, where the company was founded. That means consistency in the products, he said.

"One time we were running out of raspberry and I tried another supplier, but it just wasn't the same . . . I ended up tossing out a whole tub because it just wasn't what we require," he said.

Glaros knew what to expect because he grew up in the Youngstown area, where Handel's is the local legend in premium, hand-scoop ice cream with tempting toppings.

He had been vice president of a sales territory for Carmel-based Thompson -- which makes RCA brand televisions and other consumer electronics -- for more than 20 years.

"But I found myself getting tired of the corporate life and the travel and waking up without knowing what city you're in," he said.

"So, I decided to go into business for myself."

Glaros and his wife first investigated pizza franchises and prepared to move to the Carolinas to open restaurants.

Then they noticed local ice cream lovers had few options -- before national chains began to discover the area about three years ago. Meanwhile, they'd gone back to Greg's Ohio roots to rediscover his favorite ice cream shop, and decided to introduce Handel's to Hoosier taste buds.

Handel's began in 1945 in a Youngstown gasoline station owned by Alice Handel's husband. Without measuring cups, and using recipes from memory, she began whipping up batches of ice cream for sale until the treats became so popular they outgrew the station.

She moved to a bigger location, then sold the business in 1985 to Leonard Fisher, who gradually began opening more stores and selling franchises. Now, it has 30 locations with plans for 65, according to the company.

Glaros, who has from 18 to 24 employees during seasonal periods in his two shops, said peak sales are in the hot days of summer. Rainy days are the only killers in the ice cream business.

Handel's is finding a niche catering ice cream socials and sundae buffets for church groups, office parties and other events.

Butter pecan is the traditional favorite among longtime Handel's fans in Ohio.

Glaros said "our most popular is Spouse Like a House,' a Handel's-created flavor made with malted vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered, peanut butter-filled pretzels. The taste is kind of like another childhood favorite, peanut-covered ice cream cones called drumsticks.

The Chocoholic Chunk has many addicts who crave the dark chocolate with chips and cookie dough. Black raspberry and mint chocolate chip also are big-selling flavors.

"We do a maple walnut and a black walnut ice cream with real black walnuts," which is something of a rarity because real nuts are rather expensive ingredients, he said.

One of Handel's strengths is the powerful flavor burst in each bite, he said, which helps make flavors like the Tin Lizzy, made with chocolate and butterscotch, or the cherry cordial, cinnamon sticky bun and chocolate raspberry truffle, among the favorites for Hoosier tastes.

The shop also offers seasonal flavors like coconut cream pie, rum raisin, s'mores, peach, blueberry cobbler, black cherry, coffee chocolate chip, deep dish apple pie, and cotton candy ice cream.

Glaros said, "Cotton candy sounds like it might just be a kid's favorite, but I have adults who buy it by the quart."

Call Star reporter Bruce C. Smith at (317) 444-2605.

No comments: