LocationLeona’s Ice Cream factory in Wilkinsburg

Featured guest: Katie Heldstab, co-owner of Leona’s Ice Cream

3 things that surprised me:

1. The Wilkinsburg factory had been home to Smith’s Bakery, a family-owned business, for decades and the Leona’s team still uses the bakery’s equipment to make cookies for its ice cream sandwiches. The giant industrial mixer probably dates back 70 or 80 years. In the basement, Katie discovered a huge bowl used for raising dough that was big enough for three people to fit inside!

2. Leona’s was born when Katie and her wife Christa received an ice cream maker for their wedding. Katie had developed lactose intolerance so she started experimenting with making lactose-free ice cream. As she continued fine-tuning her frozen experiments, she enrolled in Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course. Finally, Katie’s ice cream was ready for prime time and she and Christa founded Leona’s Ice Cream in 2013. All of its ice cream and ice cream sandwiches are still lactose-free. (P.S.: The company was named after their dog.)

3. Katie shared some impressive stats: Last year they assembled more than 170,000 ice cream sandwiches, which means that they baked over 350,000 cookies. And the list of flavor combinations is impressive.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: I asked Katie what happens when a cookie crumbles. She says they have a container called the “cookie graveyard.” Team members are welcome to snack on those cookies but they also use broken cookies for mix-ins in cookie-centric ice creams.

Additional info: You can learn more about Leona’s Ice Cream and where to find its ice cream sandwiches (or pints) on Leona’s website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to the Bus Traffic Operations Center & Rail Traffic Operations Center, the nerve center of all Pittsburgh transit.