Gary Kovach

Franchise owner Gary Kovach, holding a dish of mint chocolate chip ice cream, is happy he chose to bring Handel’s to Gilbert.

Youngstown, Ohio, transplants in Gilbert may – or may not – have heard the scoop.

Their favorite ice cream, Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream, has followed them here.

Dozens of former residents of the Rust Belt city, located halfway between Pittsburg and Cleveland, who stumbled upon the place have greeted local franchise owner Gary Kovach with cries of delight.

There have been weekends when customers formed a line that snaked out the door into the parking lot. One family drove all the way from Cave Creek.

And Handel’s, on the northeast corner of Val Vista and Guadalupe roads, hasn’t even held a grand opening or taken out a single page of advertising. The news has spread through word of mouth and sight.

Among those who did a double take at the doorway of the trademark royal blue and white ice creamery recently is Sophia Fire, and her young daughter. Fire found out that her husband, Eddie, and Kovach hail from the same part of Youngstown.

“I always tell my in-laws thank god because Handel’s isn’t in Arizona because I would be obese because this is the best ice cream in the whole world, and every time I go to Youngstown, I have to eat Handel’s every day because it’s a huge treat and I know I can’t get it once I leave,” she said. “I’m emotional being in there.”

Kovach left a good job as an electrical contractor for General Motors and moved from Youngstown in 2016. His wife, Stephanie, was already here, living in the house they own in Carefree, and employed.

He had heard that Arizona could do with some good ice cream and knew that this brand would be a good fit. Established in 1945 by Youngstown resident Alice Handel, who used old-fashioned recipes with fresh fruit she picked from her own backyard, the ice cream has a devout following.

Kovach grew up eating it.

“We had Dairy Queen, Friendly’s and McDonalds; and then we had Handel’s. There was no skimping that went on. It was the go-to ice cream,” he said.

With the Gilbert store, which is the 40th for Handel’s, Arizona joins California, Nevada and Oregon as the states out west that have locations. The brand is known for its treats made fresh daily at every site.

“I’ve always wanted to do something significant, and I thought what’s more significant than bringing Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream to the state of Arizona?” Kovach asked.

Handel’s menu features pops, hand packed quarts and pints, banana split, four-scoop samplers, sundaes, old fashioned milkshakes, smoothies, cones and waffle bowls as mainstays.

In Gilbert, 48 flavors are offered, and decreasing inventory is replenished daily on-site, which amounts to about 18-30 flavors. It only takes about 10 minutes to make a batch.

The store has seating apart from a bench, so customers purchase and eat outside, in the vehicle or take it home. Most Handel’s locations are free-standing buildings where customers walk up to a window.

Kovach wears his blue Handel’s t-shirt when he’s out and about in the area. That’s when he realized that there were plenty of former Youngstown residents here.

“There’s not a day that goes by that people don’t thank us for opening here,” he said. “Somebody said recently ‘you guys have the best ice cream.’”

While feeling overjoyed that Handel’s is nearby, Fire said some restraint should be in order, eating ice cream-wise.

“Now that it’s here, I don’t have to feel the pressure of eating it every day. I’m so excited and I hope this place makes it, and everybody will find out that this is not ordinary ice cream,” she said.

Handel’s Gilbert is at 1672 E. Guadalupe Road #101, Gilbert. Details: or 602-314-4561.

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