Klavon’s holds new national ice cream competition with Ice Cream Day festival

Klavon’s, the Strip District ice cream shop, is holding its first national ice cream competition Sunday and turning it into a gala event to celebrate National Ice Cream Day in Pittsburgh.

Even though this is the first year, “Klavon’s Small Ice Cream Shop Competition” has attracted more than 50 competitors, all small neighborhood ice cream shops from across the country. Most states are represented, with the farthest-flung ice cream coming from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Klavon’s has arranged to close 28th Street in the Strip District from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. The hub for the ice cream judging will be Klavon’s, at 2801 Penn Ave., but activities will take place along 28th Street, including live music, entertainers, bounce houses and the Taco Loco food truck. Most activities will get rolling around 11 a.m. Klavon’s will sell from its regular menu, and if there’s any ice cream left over from the competition, they’ll dole out free samples after the winner is announced at 5 p.m.

Jacob Hanchar, who co-owns Klavon’s with his wife, Desiree, thought of an ice cream competition while traveling for his day job with Digital Dream Labs, which sells educational technology packages to school districts.

“I love ice cream, and I love ice cream shops,” he said, noting that when his job takes him to other cities, he always asks locals, “What’s the cool local ice cream parlor in this neighborhood?” And then he visits.

He started posting photos from his stops on Klavon’s social media and noticed they created a lot of web traffic, which led him to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got everybody together?”

In most cases, shop owners will ship their ice creams overnight on dry ice, although some nearby competitors will hand-deliver their submissions.

Mr. Hanchar finalized his competition idea during a trip to the Rose Bowl. A Penn State alumnus, Mr. Hanchar always promised his cousin, a University of Southern California graduate, that they would attend if the two teams ever made it to the Rose Bowl in the same year. While in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Hanchar visited Coolhaus, a well-known ice cream shop there, and met owner Natasha Case. He decided that if he could persuade her to be a judge, he would make his competition idea a reality.

She agreed, and Mr. Hanchar then decided to highlight female leadership in the ice cream industry by selecting two additional female ice cream shop owners as co-judges. He ended up choosing two from Brooklyn: Crista Freeman of Phin and Phebes and Jennie Dundas of Blue Marble Ice Cream.

With 50 ice creams to consider, judging will go on all day with blind testing. The judges will choose winners in four categories: classic American flavors (such as strawberry, vanilla, butter pecan and coffee), unique flavors, ice cream incorporated into dessert (such as ice cream sandwiches or ice cream-filled churros), and “other” ice creams such as gelatos and sorbets. They will select a winner for each category as well as a $10,000 grand prizewinner. 

All participating shops have agreed to feature the winning ice cream in their shops, leading to national publicity for the winner. Mr. Hanchar explained that the winner will give the ice cream recipe to the other shop owners, who will then prepare “their interpretation of that flavor.”

Mr. Hanchar plans to evaluate the day and ask the competitors for their opinions to determine whether this will become an annual event. Given the limited pool of judges, he may look into running the competition once every few years. But because of amount of interest in the competition so far, he definitely sees a repeat in store.

For information, go to klavonsicecream.com or find it on Facebook.

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com; @pgfoodevents.


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