Before he adopted the nickname “ScoopDogg,” Ken Schulenburg was a retail industry consultant who helped companies expand into new markets. So when he and his girlfriend Juliana Ortiz decided to open their own retail business in their hometown of Encinitas, he looked hard at what the city already had and what it was missing.
“We noticed that a lot of people around here were making beer but nobody was making ice cream,” said Schulenburg, who opened Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream with Ortiz on June 4.
The Encinitas shop is one of the only ice cream companies in San Diego County that makes all of its own products in the store - and it’s a lot of product. The shop has more than 50 varieties available every day, and the flavors change daily, with as many as 300 varieties to choose from.
Schulenburg and Ortiz spend about eight hours a day, seven days a week, making the ice cream. They make just 3.5 gallons per batch so the ice creams never sit too long in the freezers, which are large old-fashioned top-opening chillers that stretch from one end of the store to the other.
Schulenburg grew up in Ohio, where Handel’s Homemade has been around for 72 years. On a hot summer day in 1945, Alice Handel started selling her homemade ice cream at her husband’s gas station in Youngstown, Ohio, and the company has been growing ever since. Most of the stores are in Ohio, with a small sprinkling of shops in Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. The Encinitas store is one of four in California and the only one in San Diego County.
While Handel’s is a chain, its store locations aren’t operated as traditional franchises. Shop owners can design their stores the way they wish - most are window-service-only kiosks, but the Encinitas store is a large walk-in shop. Owners are encouraged to come up with their own local traditions, community outreach programs and flavors. Schulenburg has created several of his own ice cream varieties, including this week’s Chocolate Orange Chip and Dat Brownie Dough.
That last flavor is the favorite of regular customer Andy Steinman of Carlsbad. Steinman said Handel’s ice cream reminds him of the rich, creamy frozen custard he grew up on in the Midwest, and he likes how it always tastes fresh-made.”
“Because they make it in the shop, it never has that hard freeze. Also the portions are humongous and I like how they’re changing things up,” Steinman said.
The shop’s consistent top sellers are Graham Central Station (graham cracker-flavored ice cream with graham ripple and chocolate covered honeycomb crunch), Oree Dough (chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream with large chunks of Oreo cookies) and Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie. There are 10 flavors that customers can always count on (like chocolate and vanilla) but the other 40-plus are up to the owner’s discretion.
Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream
What: Makes and sells more than 50 varieties of ice cream
Owner: Ken Schulenburg & Juliana Ortiz
Where: 90 N. Coast Highway, Suite 101, Encinitas
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Because the lineup changes often, the flavors are written up on a wall-sized chalkboard by the door. Among the more unusual options in the Handel’s recipe book are True Blue Bubble Gum, Elvis, Deep Dish Apple Pie, German Chocolate Cake, S’mores and Spouse Like a House. Ortiz’s personal favorite is the strawberry sorbet and Schulenburg’s current pick is Red Sky Tonight (black raspberry ice cream with chocolate truffle chunks), and - yes - they still enjoy eating ice cream every day.
Handel’s is known for the generous use of add-ins (a 3.5-gallon batch of strawberry sorbet incorporates 6 pounds of fresh berries) as well as extra-large portions. A single serving is $3.75, which is three scoops totaling up to 6 ounces. A double, $4.50, adds another scoop. The shop sells ice cream by the pint and quart, as well as ice cream sundaes, banana splits and ice cream cakes and pies.
The shop opened to a line down the street last June, and business was so brisk in the summer months, the couple had 30 people working behind the counter every night. The winter months have been more manageable, but there’s still a line out the door on weeknights and down the walkway on weekends. Ortiz said customers have driven from as far as Temecula and Chula Vista and many customers simply ask for whatever flavor just came out of the ice cream machines.
Schulenburg and Ortiz met while working in the retail financial service industry and have been together for three years. Between them, they have four children ages 12 to 19, and wanted to own a business that they and their children, as well as other Encinitas families, could enjoy.
Schulenburg didn’t eat Handel’s ice cream as a child, but he and his grandfather did make ice cream the old-fashioned way, with rock salt and a hand-cranked freezer. To him, ice cream is a reminder of his childhood and many of his adult customers say they feel that same sense of nostalgia.
“We have a lot of adults who come here to relive their memories, but we also have a lot of kids who are now coming in to make their own memories because there’s nothing like this around here,” he said.