After a ‘catastrophic’ freezer failure, things at Leona’s are getting back to normal

They’re still working to catch up to demand, but a new freezer is coming soon.

"Caramel Corn and Peanuts Sandwich," a take on Cracker Jacks.

"Caramel Corn and Peanuts Sandwich," a take on Cracker Jacks.

Courtesy of Leona's
Rossilynne Culgan

Five months after Leona’s Ice Cream lost thousands of ice cream sandwiches in a freezer malfunction, the business is catching up on lost frozen treats and will install a new freezer to keep up with demand.

Plus, the ice cream sandwich shop, which is turning five years old this summer, recently purchased the Wilkinsburg building where they operate their production facility.

In the next few weeks, Leona’s will add a new freezer to the factory with the help of a crowdfunded $25,000 Kiva loan. They’ve already fixed a malfunctioning freezer and this second super-cold freezer, called a blast chiller, will help them catch up on the stock they lost.

“We’ll have two of them, so we can make twice as much ice cream,” co-owner Katie Heldstab said. “What we lost we still haven’t really caught up on. We’re able to fulfill everything, but we’re not able to get ahead right now.”

For the past four years, the business has rented space along Penn Avenue at what used to be a bakery. The building isn’t open to the public — yet, anyway, said Heldstab, who owns Leona’s with her wife and business partner Christa Puskarich.

“We’re in a pretty historic building as far as Wilkinsburg and sweets go,” Heldstab said. “It used to be Smith’s Bakery, which is a big deal to a lot of people in Wilkinsburg. I get stopped all the time with people saying they got their wedding cakes or birthday cakes here.”

So when their landlord was ready to sell, Heldstab and Puskarich jumped at the opportunity to invest in the neighborhood as an owner-occupied business.

“Owning the space will allow us to expand our production and allow us to get farther in our wholesale endeavors,” Heldstab said, adding that Leona’s ice cream sandwiches can already be found in more than 60 locations across five counties.

In their four years there, they’ve settled into the space, establishing an ice cream garden last year in what was an empty, overgrown lot. They now grow blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries and mint for use in their frozen confections.

This summer, the shop will debut new summer flavors, like a take on Cracker Jacks with caramel corn and peanuts and a garden strawberry variety.