The inside scoop on Klavon’s sundaes


Anne Amundson | Staff Photographer

Klavon’s opened in 1923 as an ice cream shop alongside Klavon’s pharmacy and apothecary, but today functions as an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

By Jon Moss and Mary Rose O'Donnell

As self-driving cars roam Pittsburgh’s streets and local computer scientists develop advanced robots, one ice cream shop keeps the feeling of the early 20th century alive.

Nestled in the historic Strip District, at the corner of Penn Avenue and 28th Street, Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor has been a Pittsburgh staple since 1923. Originally opened by the late James Klavon as Klavon’s Pharmacy, an apothecary and ice cream shop, the shop functions today as an ice cream parlor.

Stepping into Klavon’s is like traveling back in time. Old-fashioned phone booths line the back corner of the parlor, with rotary phones and newspaper clippings which mention the 95-year-old shop. Glass cases of Klavon memorabilia fill the wall behind the bar, holding dozens of antique apothecary jars and James Klavon’s fading pharmacist licenses and diplomas.

Klavon’s currently has 13 basic flavors of ice cream as well as weekly seasonal flavors, the most recent being Candy Caramel Apple. It offers 23 different sundaes, with names like The Crowd Pleaser and Cookie Doughlicious, ice cream floats and ice cream sodas — one of the last places in Pittsburgh that still does.

Decades of Pittsburgh’s history are etched into the walls of the shop, according to Maya Johnson, a Klavon’s employee since 2013 and the current general manager. In particular, the Great St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 significantly impacted the shop with more than .

“There was no locks and dams back at the Allegheny River, so [the shop] flooded pretty quickly. And this line, right here, that’s how high the water got,” Johnson said, pointing to a white line near the ceiling of the shop.

Most items in the shop survived the flood and are still in use today. Physical reminders of the flood remain long after the high waters have receded.

“If you look at some of the mirrors, back towards more that side, there’s a little water damage to the mirrors,” Johnson added.

The shop continued serving the community until its first closure in 1979 when James Klavon died — but the closure wasn’t permanent. Raymond Klavon, grandson of the original proprietor, reopened the shop in 1999 as Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor.

While this next generation ran Klavon’s, Johnstown native Jacob Hanchar and his family came across the shop for the first time. Hanchar, his wife Desiree and their two young children were driving through the Strip District in 2011 when they spotted the ice cream parlor. Intrigued, they parked in the back lot and went inside.

“The kids had a blast, they had a great time. Then we came back a couple other times,” Hanchar said.

Two years later, on Jan. 16, 2013, Raymond Klavon passed away. On Mother’s Day of that same year, Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor closed its doors and began to look for potential buyers.

Meanwhile, the Hanchars were looking to find a “kid-friendly” business to invest in and Klavon’s, which they had been frequenting for the past two years, seemed to be the perfect fit.

“We heard about it and immediately … there were rumors … of people bidding on this [Klavon’s] that were gonna gut it entirely and totally renovate the place. We didn’t want that to happen,” Hanchar said.

And it didn’t. The Hanchars submitted a bid and told the Klavon family, “We’re gonna keep it Klavon’s, we’re gonna run it as an ice cream parlor, [and] we’re gonna respect the history.”

Photo courtesy of Mia Bongardino
Klavon’s offers 13 flavors of ice cream and 23 different sundaes.

The Klavon family sold their business to the Hanchars in June 2013, with the store reopening the following month on National Ice Cream Day.

Hanchar reflected on his past experience as a Penn State student decades earlier when taking on the reins of running Klavon’s — specifically how he came to love the Penn State Creamery, and ultimately decided to stock the store with Creamery ice cream.

But, as the shop started to grow, it became more difficult to source ice cream only from the Creamery.

“You’ve got to go pick it up and you’ve got to pay cash right now,” Hanchar said. “We did that for a while and it was clear to me that we weren’t going to be very profitable if we kept doing that.”

Hanchar and Johnson traveled to State College in 2015 and attended the famous Penn State Ice Cream Course to learn how to make their own ice cream. These skills are now put to use in Klavon’s new production plant in New Castle, with three to four times the capacity of the current production facility in the shop’s basement.

Despite Klavon’s nearly century-long history, the shop is still growing, and looking for ways to keep up with Pittsburgh in the future.

One recent change was opening earlier during the week to serve lunch. The shop also added 10 different paninis and several soups to its menu.

“People come Monday through Friday, they can call or order in, they can use either GrubHub, Postmates or UberEats to get it delivered to them. Or they can just come down and just enjoy lunch here,” Johnson said.

Soon, you may also be able to take a small piece of Klavon’s home with you — the shop is looking to start selling quarts and gallons of its ice cream in local retailers like Giant Eagle and Aldi.

“It could be tomorrow,” Hanchar said. “We got the permit to distribute and sell in March. Right now, we’ve just been working on logistics.”

For some, Klavon’s will always hold a special place in their hearts as a tried-and-true Pittsburgh establishment.

Pamela Rakowski, a Pitt alumna and Pittsburgh native, said that her dad, born in 1946 and a resident of the Strip District, was a regular Klavon’s customer. When visiting the shop on Sunday, she was excited to continue the family tradition.

“Love the history that comes with it,” Rakowski said, while enjoying a Klavon’s Super Sundae with her daughter Katherine. “This is … what everything used to look like.”