The Association of Fundraising Professionals Mahoning-Shenango Chapter will recognize Leonard Fisher as Outstanding Philanthropist during its annual National Philanthropy Day luncheon Nov. 4.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Leonard Fisher, president and chairman of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream, recently introduced a new ice cream sandwich that’s being sold at area locations.
Fisher had 10,000 samples made of the newly trademarked confection, which includes peanut butter and jelly. So far, response has been positive, he says.
“The kids love it. It’s just a natural,” he says. “People are going to say, ‘Why didn’t I think that?’”
Proceeds from the frozen treat’s sales are going to Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, a longtime beneficiary of Fisher’s philanthropy.
Fisher moved to the area in the 1970s from Manhattan, where he operated a lunch stand in an office building, to open a Yellow Submarine sandwich shop here.
After pursuing various business ventures – including selling jewelry – here and elsewhere, he saw a magazine article about premium ice cream. So he approached Alice Handel, owner of the iconic Handel’s Ice Cream on Youngstown’s South Side, about selling her ice cream in grocery stores.
“I love the food business. The thing I’ve always learned is if you give the people a great product, they’re going to come back,” he says. “We have stores in California that are just doing phenomenal. It’s phenomenal business.”
That idea proved impractical. The ice cream stand’s six machines could only produce 20 pints at a time, and Handel was busy from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. making ice cream just to keep up with demand.
“We could never have made 10,000 pints a week – impossible,” he laments.
The two got to know each other well and Handel suggested that Fisher buy the company, a deal which she ended up financing.
Fisher bought the business in 1985, two years before she died.
“Alice was a sweetheart,” he recalls. His one promise to her was that he would never change any of her recipes. “And we never have,” he says.
Since buying Handel’s, he has expanded from the South Side stand to nine states, including California, Arizona and Texas.
Support for local children’s hospitals began after Fisher’s son was born with a condition known as gastroschisis, a birth defect that allows a baby’s intestines to extend outside the body, for which he subsequently was treated at the former Tod Children’s Hospital. Fisher and Handel’s supported Tod through car and bike cruises as well as other events until the hospital closed in 2007.
After that, Fisher began supporting the Boardman campus of Akron Children’s Hospital, most recently donating $1 million to support expansion of the hospital’s emergency department. That was spurred in part by a tour of the department, during which he saw people working in the hallways.
More recently, Fisher’s philanthropy has extended to support entrepreneurship, including direct support of the Youngstown Business Incubator. He recently endowed a room in YBI’s Tech Block Building No. 5, and sponsored its Shark Tank business pitch competition.
Fisher emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurship. He is encouraged by developments such as the growth of additive manufacturing technology locally and continued improvements in downtown Youngstown, including the opening of the Doubletree by Hilton.
Fisher is a “generous philanthropist,” says Barb Ewing, YBI CEO.
In addition to his own contributions, he has helped connect YBI portfolio companies to other potential investors, helped YBI to expand its network and actively promoted Shark Tank, Ewing says. And he already is talking about how he can support the event next year.
Also, as a successful entrepreneur, he “brings a lot of street cred to the table” for YBI. “With Lenny, you not only get his financial support but his blood, sweat and tears, too. He really invests his time,” she says.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be successful, and I believe if you’re successful you should share,” Fisher says. “If you don’t share, what’s the point of having?”
Pictured at top: Leonard Fisher says proceeds from Handel’s new product will benefit Akron Children’s Hospital.