Photo: Matt Dayak
Christa Puskarich and Katie Heldstab of Leona's
No summer is complete without a hearty helping of ice cream. For Leona's, makers of locally beloved, lactose-free ice cream sandwiches, the demand for frozen treats continued all summer long, even in the middle of a pandemic.
Like most businesses, owners Katie Heldstab and Christa Puskarich dealt with the stress of implementing COVID-19 safety protocols while trying to keep customers happy. Initially, Leona's shut down ice cream production and only sold the stock they already had.
"We realized that the demand was still high and if we didn't start making ice cream, we wouldn't be able to keep our staff, and considering unemployment wasn't coming through, it was very important to keep working," says Heldstab.
The team gradually brought back staff, implemented mandatory masks and plexiglass dividers, and began working in split shifts to churn out new batches of ice cream.
Puskarich and Heldstab are not only business partners, but also partners in life. The pair actually began making homemade ice cream after receiving an ice cream maker as a wedding gift. For Heldstab and Puskarich, winning Best LGBTQ-owned business is especially meaningful.
"We think it's vital to be authentic and live whole lives. Part of that wholeness is that my wife and I own this company," says Heldstab. "When we were coming up and coming out, we didn't see a ton of visible queer people in normal jobs, much less owning their own company. We are grateful for this recognition and hope to use it as a way to signal [to] other folx that entrepreneurship is an option, and so is visibility."
Leona's is known for their big and tall ice cream sandwiches, which sit between two homemade cookies. The flavors often put a twist on classic desserts, like strawberry pretzel salad and Key lime pie, as well as concocting modern flavors like black sesame ice cream on salted tahini cookies.
Over the past few months, Leona's hasn't been able to invest as much time into creating new flavors. As of recently, the team has started experimenting again, resulting in the newly released vanilla malt ice cream on chocolate wafer cookies, which "tastes like a malted milk ball."