Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream is a family affair

You can find the entire Wolikow family at Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream at The Market Place.

Combine heavy cream with fresh ingredients, like strawberries, caramel or vanilla beans. Add a hefty measure of nostalgia, and you’ve got the winning recipe for Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream at The Market Place in Irvine.

“We’ve had 200 people standing in line,” says owner John Wolikow, who opened the store in 2020. “We can’t serve them fast enough.”

The frozen desserts are such a success that Wolikow plans to open a second Irvine location next year, at Alton Square.

Wolikow spends about 20 hours a week at The Market Place parlor, scooping, mentoring his young employees and sometimes even helping to make the ice cream on-site. His wife, Hilda, an accountant, helps with the payroll, and their three teenage children wash dishes and scoop. “It’s great for them to see how a business is run, and it’s always good family time.”

“My baseball team would always meet there after games to celebrate or commiserate over ice cream. It’s where we all kind of knew to go, and I can see that happening here in Irvine as well.” – John Wolikow, owner

Sweet memories

Some of Wolikow’s favorite childhood memories are afternoons spent with friends outside the Handel’s parlor in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, where the company got started in 1945.

“My baseball team would always meet there after games to celebrate or commiserate over ice cream,” he recalls. “It’s where we all kind of knew to go, and I can see that happening here in Irvine as well.”

He’s proud of the Handel’s brand, ranked No. 1 in the world by the National Geographic guide to “The Ten Best of Everything.”

“It’s quite rare to make the ice cream right at the store, and we use the finest quality ingredients,” he says. “The secret sauce is the heavy cream, which is a proprietary Handel’s recipe.”

Generous portions are another Handel’s trademark. Every cone has at least 2 1/2 scoops, and every bite will feature added ingredients like strawberries or Oreo cookies or caramel.

The parlor offers dozens of flavors, including some that date back to the days when Alice Handel served ice cream at her husband’s gas station, as well as modern recipes like Blue Monster (dyed-blue vanilla ice cream with Oreo and chocolate chip cookies) and Buckeye (peanut butter ice cream with fudge ripple and buckeye candy.)

Giving back

Wolikow owns one other Handel’s, in Lake Forest, but these days you can most often find him at The Market Place.

“I love engaging with the community, meeting families and seeing the mayor and vice mayor stop in for a cone,” he says. He engages not only by selling, but by giving back, hosting fundraisers two or three times a week, donating 20% of the proceeds to worthy causes, including local schools. Every Tuesday he sells ice cream for $3 – nearly half off – to give customers a break.

“We work with a lot of folks, and he is the most hospitable and kind manager you could ever find,” says Irvine High School junior Paul Chau, executive director of Orphan Assistance Fund, a nonprofit that supports children in foster care. Since seeking Wolikow’s help last year, Chau estimates Handel’s has raised close to $800 for the group from roughly $4,000 in sales. “He takes our mission personally and always makes sure we have the best night we can,” Chau adds.

Wolikow chose Alton Square for his next store because of the many schools and parks nearby. The plaza is within walking distance of Irvine Valley College and just a mile from Woodbridge High School, where he hopes to recruit employees.

“I hope it will be another place where families can make lots of new happy memories,” he says.