Calvin Gadson spent the hot Philadelphia summers of his youth enjoying Italian ice cream with his siblings.
His younger sister, Angel, loved him the most. She had childhood diabetes and ate sugar-free versions of the popular East Coast treat.
Calvin left Philadelphia to join the army and had the opportunity to travel the country. He made a point of finding Italian gelato in every city he visited to remember his hometown. After Angel died in 2014 from complications of diabetes, it became a way to honor his memory.
While stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Calvin quickly discovered that he couldn’t find soft serve anywhere in Alaska. Now Calvin and his wife, Iwaya, own Angel’s Frozen Treats, where they sell Philadelphia Italian gelato, ice cream, soft serve and more.
“It brings me a lot of joy when people speak positively about Angel because I feel like it brings energy to his spirit,” Calvin Gadson said.
When he learned there was no Italian ice cream maker in Anchorage, Gadson decided to fill that void himself. Last summer, after eight years of civilian life in Anchorage, Calvin and Iwaya purchased a batch freezer and began selling Italian ice cream in their neighborhood and around Anchorage.
“We started in the kitchen, then moved to the garage, and finally we’re here,” Gadson said.
[Community and opportunity: The Spenard Food Truck Carnival celebrates 10 years]
This year, encouraged by the sudden popularity of Italian gelato and funded by their mobile sales, they opened a physical store at 5600 DeBarr Road.
Angel’s Frozen Treats specializes in Philadelphia Italian gelato, also known as popsicle. It was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, first becoming popular in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas before spreading across the country.
Italian gelato is not shaved ice, gelato, sorbet, or a snow cone, but shares some similar characteristics.
“It looks like ice cream, but it tastes like fruit, and there’s no dairy, so it’s like the best of both worlds,” Gadson said.
Gadson said 98% of Angel’s Italian gelato is non-dairy and made with 100% cane sugar. It’s usually made with fruit, water, and sugar, though it’s easy to customize. Calvin and Iwaya have created kosher, 100% vegan, allergy-free and sugar-free batches. In the store, they layer it with soft, Dole Whip, and toppings like fruit, cookies, and candy bars.
“We don’t want to offer inferior products,” he said. “We want to let people know that Italian gelato is here to stay, so you have to do it with fine craftsmanship.”
Originally, Gadson said he was looking to open a cart, like the coffee shacks around Anchorage, but couldn’t land in the right place. Then he couldn’t get a business loan, so he took out a personal loan to fund the business.
The Gadsons are both currently working, but hope to be able to fully focus on the new business soon. Iwaya Gadson is pregnant with their fifth child and she will not return to work as a certified medical assistant after the baby is born.
Calvin Gadson is the general manager of another company in Anchorage. In the meantime, he plans to continue working at both jobs. The store is still new and the Gadsons want to get a feel for the progress of the business before he can quit his day job.
The shop is open from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. On school days, all medium desserts are available for $5 from 2-5 p.m. The window is reminiscent of most ice cream parlors, with flavor names like “Mango Madness” and “My Goodness Grape.”
Angel’s Frozen Treats is also making a name for itself in Anchorage through community-focused initiatives. Gadson has worked closely with Bartlett High on something he is passionate about: providing opportunities for young people to work and earn money. Angel’s has hired two high school students to work in the shop and will hire two more this summer to work in the mobile division.