Calvin Gadson spent the hot Philadelphia summers of his youth enjoying Italian ice with his siblings.
His younger sister, Angel, loved it the most. She suffered from juvenile diabetes and ate sugar-free versions of the popular East Coast treat.
Calvin left Philadelphia to join the military and had the opportunity to travel the country. He made a point to find Italian ice in all the cities he visited as a way to remember his hometown. After Angel died in 2014 of complications from diabetes, it became a way to honor her memory.
When he was stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Calvin quickly discovered he couldn’t find Italian ice anywhere in Alaska. Now, Calvin and his wife, Iwaya, are the owners of Angel’s Frozen Treats, where they sell Philadelphia Italian ice, frozen custard, soft serve and more.
”It brings me a lot of joy when people speak positively about Angel’s because I feel like it’s bringing energy to her spirit,” Calvin Gadson said.
When he learned that there was no Italian ice producer in Anchorage, Gadson decided to fill that void himself. Last summer, after eight years of civilian life in Anchorage, Calvin and Iwaya bought a batch freezer and started by selling Italian ice in their neighborhood and around Anchorage.
“We started in the kitchen, and then we moved to the garage, and finally we’re here,” Gadson said.
This year, encouraged by the sudden popularity of Italian ice and funded by their mobile sales, they opened a brick-and-mortar shop at 5600 DeBarr Road.
Angel’s Frozen Treats specializes in Philadelphia Italian Ice, also known as water ice. It was introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, becoming popular first in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas before spreading across the country.
Italian ice isn’t 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 ice is non-dairy and is made with 100% cane sugar. It is generally made out of fruit, water and sugar, although it is easy to customize. Calvin and Iwaya have created kosher, 100% vegan, allergy- and sugar-free batches. In the shop, they layer it with soft serve, Dole Whip and toppings like fruit, cookies and candy bars.
“We don’t want to put out any inferior products,” he said. “We want to let people know that Italian ice is here to stay, so you’ve got to do that with fine craftsmanship.”
Originally, Gadson said he was looking to open a cart, like the coffee huts around Anchorage, but couldn’t land the right space. Then he was unable to secure a business loan, so he took out a personal loan to fund the business.
The Gadsons are both still currently working day jobs, but they hope to be able to fully focus on the new venture soon. Iwaya Gadson is pregnant with their fifth child, and she won’t return to her job as a certified medical assistant after the baby is born.
Calvin Gadson is a general manager for another business in Anchorage. In the meantime, he plans to keep working both jobs. The shop is still new, and the Gadsons want to get a gauge of the business’s progress before he can leave his day job.
The shop is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. On school days, all medium desserts are available for $5 from 2 to 5 p.m. The display case is reminiscent of most ice cream shops, with flavor names like “Mango Madness” and “My Goodness Grape.”
Angel’s Frozen Treats is also making a place for itself in Anchorage through community-centered initiatives. Gadson has been working closely with Bartlett High on something he’s passionate about: providing young people with opportunities to work and make money. Angel’s has hired two high school students to work in the shop, and will hire two more in the summer to work the mobile division.