Klavon's is open!
Forgive the exclamation point. I don't often use them but, like the prodigal son, the great ice cream parlor in the Strip District was lost, and now is found. So it's time to feast. Only this time, forget that fatted calf. Fill the bowls and cones with that cold, sweet stuff.
When Ray Klavon died of cancer in January at 64, it wasn't ice cream season. Perhaps that's why the death of one of Pittsburgh's great proprietors, with one of the city's greatest handlebar mustaches, did not get the notice it deserved.
Back in 1999, Mr. Klavon resurrected his grandparents' store at 2801 Penn Ave. It had sat dormant for two decades, and when the old drug store soda fountain emerged again it was as if from a time capsule. With its marble counter and tabletops, its wooden booths and phone booths, its apothecary jars and its old-time candy counter, it was the kind of place in which a young George Bailey worked in "It's a Wonderful Life.''
If you were lucky, it was also the kind of place you knew as a kid. It was an immediate hit with folks looking for sugar and nostalgia.
Now Klavon's is back. The family -- Mr. Klavon was one of eight children -- sold the building and the business to Jacob and Desiree Hanchar. The young couple kept the old name and hired a smiling crew to reopen the store last weekend and commence scooping.
On Thursday afternoon, Dominic Busa of Richland was at the counter with his daughter, Amarianna, and three of her friends who were there to help celebrate her 12th birthday. Mr. Busa keeps a 24-foot speedboat at the Washington's Landing Marina; they often trek across the 31st Street Bridge -- sometimes by bicycle -- to treat themselves.
The girls pronounced both the ice cream -- it's all from the Penn State Creamery -- and the service "way better'' than any other place they'd been.
"You can talk to these people,'' Amarianna's friend, Lauren Roos, marveled.
Mr. Hanchar, 33, said he intends to overstaff the place to keep that good service. He hired 17-year-old Jamie Klavon, Ray Klavon's niece, to train the others.
"Everyone's doing like a phenomenal job,'' the rising senior at Shaler Area High School said of her colleagues.
The dishes aren't cheap -- a Strip District Split will run you $6.50 -- but the uniqueness of the experience and the high quality of the ice cream keeps people coming back. The Midwife Center is on the same block, and more than one pregnant customer with a craving and a partner came through the door in the hour-plus that I was there.
"I was thinking we should start carrying pickles, too,'' Mr. Hanchar said.
His full-time job is running the family company, River Hill Coal Co., with holdings in Clearfield and Indiana counties. The company touts its environmental record, but Mr. Hanchar says coal remains a business where "everyone hates your guts.''
Owning Klavon's, where "everyone comes in happy,'' is quite a nice change, he said.
The happy customers this day included his wife and their three children, the oldest of whom is 5. Desiree Ranchar is originally from New Mexico, but the couple decided to raise a family here because in Pittsburgh when she says "hi" to someone, they say "hi'' back.
"That was huge for me,'' she said.
Mr. Hanchar says he's talking to a local fudge manufacturer and coffee company about adding those products, and at least one customer was at the counter gently lobbying for just the right kind of syrup for the chocolate sodas. It all seems right.
The only thing left to mention is the right way to pronounce the name. Klavon's has a soft "a'' with the accent on the second syllable. It's not CLAY-von's, it's kluh-VONN's.
It kind of rhymes with chiffon, and it feels just as good when it surrounds you.
Brian O'Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947.