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How Jennifer Schuler plans to grow beloved Midwest chain Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

The former Wetzel’s Pretzels CEO is now at the helm of a very personal brand


Jennifer Schuler was named CEO of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream in March, which may have seemed like a strange move to some. Wetzel’s Pretzels went from 200 to more than 350 units during her 10 years at the company. Handel’s is decidedly different.

Founded in 1945 by Alice Handel, Handel’s is about legacy and memory. Alice Handel first started the business because her homemade ice cream, crafted with strawberries from her back garden, was so popular with neighbors.

Despite the ensuing 80 years, the 130-unit brand hasn’t changed very much in its process. The ice cream is still made using fresh ingredients and churned on-premises, because each location of Handel’s is a registered dairy manufacturing facility.

The ice cream is available in to-go containers as well as cones — Schuler’s personal favorite.

Schuler was very familiar with the brand before she joined.

After she left Wetzel’s Pretzels, she took some time to decide where she wanted to go. A customer and fan of Handel’s, she was in the store one day getting ice cream with her kids when she realized that she would love to work at the chain.

A few days later, she found out that Handel’s was looking for a new CEO.

“I do feel like it was a very much meant to be in the universe,” said Schuler.

Some of the things that drew her to the brand are things that have drawn customers since 1945.

Quality was number one. She also noted that she appreciated the role ice cream plays in people’s lives. It can be a reward for a good day or a pick-me-up on a bad day. Ice cream spans generations and geographies, she said.

“It is this childhood delight that we return to at many stages in our life,” she said. “When I did my training in Youngstown, Ohio, I saw as many eight-year-olds as I did 80-year-olds up at the counter.”

To keep that universal feeling, there isn’t revolutionary technology at Handel’s stores.

“It is hard to hold a cone and a phone,” said Schuler.

She noted that many Gen Zers are enthralled with vintage technology despite the AI at their fingertips.

Schuler said she partly joined Handel’s because she “felt like people are craving these analog experiences. We don’t have kiosks that you can place your order from. We really do try to maintain a bit of that analog experience in the store. I think it’s something people crave.”

Just because there isn’t eye-catching technology doesn’t mean that Handel’s isn’t innovating for its customers.

There are currently over 140 flavors in the Handel’s repertoire, with each store carrying about 40 at any given time.

No, there aren’t crazy ingredients like turmeric or black pepper in the new flavors. Instead, the chain is innovating with flavors people universally love.

One flavor is called Monkey Business, which is a banana cake batter with a caramel ripple. Another is a Horchata, a riff on the Mexican sweet drink.

Vote for Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream in the NRN Dessert Showdown on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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