The Greek Immigrant who Created the Legendary Dove Bar Ice Cream

Dove Bar
Leo Stefanos inspects chocolate making standing above his wife in the early days of Dove Bar. Credit: Greek Reporter / handout by Alexis Stefanos Marneris

The legendary Dove Bar ice cream was created by Greek immigrant Leo Stefanos in Chicago, Illinois in 1956, bringing a little sweetness to the Windy City’s South Side—and eventually the entire country.

One day, Stefanos saw his son, Mike, chasing an ice cream van down a busy street and swore right then and there that he would create a delicious, new ice cream that could be enjoyed in the safety of his own store.

The Dove Bar was born “in response to my brother and I taking off whenever we heard the ice cream truck bells,” Mike Stefanos told the Chicago Tribune years later. “My father was frustrated. Here he was, making fresh candy and ice cream every day, and we’d chase ice cream trucks.”

Stefanos spent months slicing blocks of ice cream and dipping them in chocolate. Eventually, he created the right result: the sensational Dove Bar was created.

The chocolate-covered bars were originally sold only in the Chicago area for 15 cents. In 1977,  Leo Stefanos passed away and Mike took over his father’s business.

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Dove Bar
Mike Stefanos took over Dove Bar after his dad’s death. Credit:

Dove Bar expands coast to coast

By the late 1970s, over one million Dove Bars were sold in a single year by street vendors to eager children, and adults, from coast to coast across the US.

In 1984, things really got going when Mike took the Dove Bar to the Fancy Foods Show in Washington, D.C., and orders started flooding in. Within three months, Dove Bars were being shipped to 3,500 supermarkets around the country.

The right offer to mass-produce the ice cream finally came from Richard Zacharras, a 73-year-old local financier who, at the urging of his chocolate-loving wife, tasted his first Dove Bar at his country club.

The company was formed in March 1985, at a start-up cost of about $2 million. Nowadays, production is up to a staggering 92,000 hand-dipped bars a day in the 13,000-square-foot Burr Ridge plant. There are 117 people working three shifts every day in an effort to meet the demand of grocery stores, specialty stores, and street vendors throughout the country for the irresistible treat.

The company was bought out by Mars Incorporated in 1986. As noted on its website: “Mars sees the potential in Dove Bar and welcomes the Stefanos’ business into its family. A nationwide sensation is born…”

Since then it has expanded into different ice cream flavors and chocolate bars. However, it all started, as so many successful businesses do, with one Greek immigrant to America.

Related: Tom Carvel: The Greek Who Introduced Soft Ice Cream to America

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