EP028 – Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni Britton Bauer is the James Beard Award-Winning pioneer of the artisan ice cream movement. That is right, if you had small-batch ice cream as a culinary experience lately you have her to thank for. Jeni built Jeni’s into a cult brand with dedicated followers and hundreds, if not thousands, of copy cats. To finish this year off having her on this show is truly an early Christmas gift for myself and subsequently to you. We were fighting some sound issues throughout, but in the spirit of the holidays, please try not to focus on those and instead on the story and brand insights from one of the most admired culinary brands today.
F Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show Jeni. It is a tremendous pleasure and honor to have you on Hitting The Mark.
Jeni B Bauer: I’m so excited to be here with you.
F Geyrhalter: Well, thank you so much for taking the time in this pre holiday frenzy. We talked about it a little, bit before we got on air, but this now marks officially our holiday podcast episode. Ice cream in winter is a thing now at least based on your gorgeous holiday catalog, which I reviewed on Instagram, you even have a gift concierge team to help pick out the flavors. Can you take any credit for the year round ice cream trends since you were cited as being the pioneer of the artisan ice cream movement?
Jeni B Bauer: I don’t know, I’m from the Midwest and so we eat ice cream year round here. That’s something I grew up doing. Of course we eat more ice cream in summer but we definitely eat ice cream all year round here. I grew up doing that and then when I started my business I knew that, the business goes down as soon as it gets cold out. We needed to work harder to bring people in and I was able to make many flavors each month, each week. That would be flavors that you only wanted to eat during the holidays or during January or February. Then by March we’re back up in and going crazy. We really, really engage our customers for the holidays and make flavors that you just really craved during that time. Then move on into deep winter, which you really have to fight for every sale. But it’s a lot of fun, we do these big bakeshop flavors where you make handmade marshmallows and sauces and all sorts of things that go in the ice creams. I think that, that’s what brings people out and it gets us through the winter and then all of a sudden everybody wants strawberry again. As soon as the first warm day hits. Of course, we’re still two months away from actually having a fresh strawberries available in the gardens and farms. But it’s just a funny way to plan the year I guess, but we do lot of holiday gifting as well. Right now, UPS or I guess it’s FedEx has a truck sitting and they’ll probably fill up two trucks today from our loading docks taking gift packages and beautiful boxes of ice cream all over the country. That’s a big part of what we do as well, it’s this whole storytelling through ice cream, which makes just such a beautiful gift. And so we’ve got this beautiful box where you UN-box it and that’s where the catalog comes in. It’s been really fun and we’ve been doing this since 2004 shipping ice cream across the country.
F Geyrhalter: That is really amazing and it’s a culinary experience. It’s like a year round culinary experience, why would it want to stop at a certain point. I’m actually interested in how you got into ice cream because it’s very different. You were fascinated with fragrances and you’ll realize that ice cream is scientifically and mathematically prone to be the perfect carrier of scent. Can you tell us a little, bit about that epiphany and what some, of the first flavors were that you created after you had that realization?
Jeni B Bauer: I was studying art, my grandmother’s an art teacher and I grew up in the art classroom. I went to art school and I was studying mostly illustration and painting and a little, bit of sculpting and other things. Then a lot of art history trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and I began to really lock into my sense of smell. I realized that I have a very developed sense of smell, I grew up going to the forest throughout the entire year. I think there’s something about that with my grandmother who was an artist and when you spend a lot of time in the forest, there’s just so many sense that surround you all the time. You could put me in the forest to this day, deciduous forests and I can close my eyes and tell you what the season is probably just by the scent. It’s very connected to my sense of smell and I knew it and I was thinking about what I could do with that from an art perspective. I happened to also be working in a French pastry shop and the owners were French, it was a family and they were wonderful. I was absolutely in love with them and all, of the friends people from Ohio state university. It was right down the street from Ohio state university, which is a massive, massive city of a university. A lot of the French people who were studying there would come in and it was a wonderful active environment where I could learn a lot. I was, I’m making pastries there, learning from the chefs that were in the kitchen, they were all from France. Almost everyone in the entire restaurant, except me and maybe one other person were French speaking, but I was learning about pastries and what goes into that. I actually happened to meet a French student who worked in the chemistry department at Ohio state who would bring me a little scents knowing that I was into this. Things that go on in your life, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with scent through art. But I was also doing pastry and I was thinking like, is pastry my future? Should I quit art and go into pastry because I loved it so much. I love flavor and I love scent, even pastry is a lot about scent. All food is about stent, you only taste it’s five things on your tongue, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory then everything else is a scent. But I quickly realized that ice cream would be a fun carrier of scent. I took a store, bought ice cream, and I mushed rose petal. I had a really expensive Bulgarian Rose petal essential oil and that one, it was like, I don’t know, it’s $400 an ounce. I probably had $25 worth, it was like several drops and I put one drop in a pint of ice cream and it was absolutely gorgeous. That was when I realized that, Oh my goodness, because I had done pastry and I knew something about butterfat. I knew that butter melted below body temperature and that it was known to absorb flavor and scent and I knew that from my grandmother. She would say, don’t put the onion next to the butter or if you’re in certain regions in France, you might actually put the truffle next to the butter. Because it will absorb the scent coming off of whatever it’s around and that’s what the fat and cream is. I knew this because I was doing it and I knew that… Once I realized that, I licked the ice cream that had this beautiful rose in it. I knew all of these things that came together, all these sparks were flying at that exact moment, which was, wow, all ice cream is about scent. It’s the perfect carrier of scent, it’s almost like edible scent. I wasn’t into fake fragrances or whatever, I think it’s a fun world to be in, but it was really more into real scent and things that, I was collecting. Were all from flowers and from herbs and things like that and mosses and all of that. Anyway, I realized in that moment that first of all, even cheap ice cream, even a synthetic vanilla you could think of it as an edible perfume. But what are we missing in American ice cream that I can add to it? I knew that, this was going to be my entire future, that I was going to be exploring ice cream foods. I literally had that epiphany and this was in 1995 so I really had this whole thing. By 1996 I had a little shop in an indoor public market here in the middle of Columbus, which is in the middle of Ohio. Working with farms from the surrounding countryside and using the ingredients, they were bringing me to steep in the cream and infuse scent that way and there you go.
F Geyrhalter: That’s fascinating. I’m sure your opinion about truffle oil, I would be interested in, most probably not a purveyor. Moving on, I met you at NPR’s How I Built This Summit with Guy Raz, which was amazing this year. I was a mentor, you were interviewed by Guy onstage, I believe it was the second time you get interviewed by him. You talked about how people said it was impossible to ship ice cream and you talked about this at the beginning of this episode and you proved them wrong by actually creating containers that were defying the odds. Can you tell us a little, bit about that time and why did you feel like you need to invent it. Was it just you needed your ice cream to travel across the country and it was the only way to scale?
Jeni B Bauer: Well, it was a combination and I think there were people who had figured out how to ship ice cream, but they were doing it in a very, very expensive way. It was overnighting only and one of the things that we did was make it much more accessible so we could do a two night or two day, using a lot of ground. That enabled us to use ground shipping instead of air shipping, which reduced the price of shipping by a lot, that made it more accessible to more people. Also in Columbus we are within a day’s drive of about 60% of the population of North America, I think is the official… We really can use a lot of ground shipping from here, which was really great. Then we started our website in 2004, started shipping on there. We got a few high-profile customers that led to some national press, which was really cool. At one time, just being young and not really knowing what I was doing. At one point I called Florence Fabricant, at the New York times and I was like, “Hey, I just wanted to know.” She’s the one that writes about new products, but I just didn’t know and I called her because I was like, we’re doing this really beautiful ice cream is in Ohio. I just thought it’d be something you would like. Because I always wanted to live up to the standards of the beautiful pastry shops and chefs that I’d seen around the world. Certainly in New York. She goes, “Oh, can I get it in New York city? I was like, no, not yet. She was like, well, why don’t you call me when I can? She was polite, but yeah, I don’t write about just stuff like that. I write for the New York times. I realized that was a stupid call, but what it did was I was like, I need to make sure that people can get our ice creams across the country in order to get national attention and it worked. Immediately we started getting, we were on the food network, I think we’re on the food network five or six times in a period of four years.
F Geyrhalter: Unbelievable.
Jeni B Bauer: Of course the New York times and basically every other food magazine out there. Quickly, what happens is that once we start to get big pieces, then you start to see other ice cream shops pop up in this model across the country and even around the world. Then it starts to pick up as a trend, which is pretty exciting to watch.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely and taking the responsibility or being a part of this next phase, this next culinary phase is beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful. During the summit with Guy Raz. When you were on stage, you also said and I paraphrase you here, “Make one person really happy and then move on to the next. It takes time to create a meaningful community that feels the right way.” When then how did you know that that your brand, and maybe it was still Scream or maybe it was already Jeni’s, but when did you know that it was actually creating a meaningful community around it?
Jeni B Bauer: When did I know that? Well, I know that when I had my first company, which is called scream from 1996 to 2000 then I closed that. I had made a lot of mistakes but also I started to understand ice cream a little, bit by the end of that. I had a lot of positives but when I opened Jeni’s, I had solved a few mistakes and or some of the things that I thought didn’t work. At that point we had such a long line and I thought, I’m going to keep this going however I can, then it was just like it goes back to that one person at a time. Being a communicator, making sure that when I go through the trouble of making this ice cream with these strawberries, that the person who’s about to eat it gets just enough of that story. That it slows them down to remember that moment a little bit deeper and to experience it a little deeper. I just remember just thinking, I’m going to keep this going and, it really does feel almost like it is a chain after that. Really is about one person at a time and it is about your team and every interaction and listening a lot and all of that. I think that it was more for me, a determination, and I will say that… I think you probably know this just as well as anybody else, but it wasn’t because we had a beautiful visual identity. It wasn’t because we had gorgeous light fixtures or tables or we had these incredible uniforms. We weren’t communicating through that, we were communicating through ourselves, our facial expressions and our ice cream. Our actual product and our own reputations, which I think is true today. Even though now we have much more beautiful visual identity and experiences because we’ve gotten better at that. We, do all of that in house as well. But back then we couldn’t afford any of that, it was really just me in the market with a couple of high school kids really trying to do a good job. I feel like that’s still what we do and now we’re 1800 people in this company. I really do think that’s the brand, that’s what it is. Everything else we do, any visual representation of that is a representation of that and that’s what it goes back to.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. It’s funny you actually started your store in Venice beach, one of the many locations in Venice Beach on Rose Avenue, which is exactly where I started my first company in 2001 as well. What’s really interesting is what you just said. I drove by a store in Venice beach a couple of years ago and it was one of those hip surfboard stores and they had a burglary overnight. They had a big sign over the window that got broken into and it said you can’t steal our vibe and I think it’s so cool. You can’t steal out vibe. That’s exactly what it is, right? People can try to emulate you to be like you, to create these similar ice cream. A similar experience with the lighting, with the design, but it’s really about that soul. It’s really about that vibe that Jeni’s has and you create it over years and that’s one step at a time.
Jeni B Bauer: It’s so many tiny things that nobody will blink into every one of them or notice everyone one them, but they all add up and you feel a certain way when you’re in our world. Sometimes I think about the difference between entrepreneurship and business and they’re very different things. Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met has been motivated much more by community and by their own creativity and imagination. Any money that they get, they use to further that, that’s what it’s about. Whereas, business is really motivated by money, that’s your scorecard and business is a complex structure of teachable disciplines. We can all learn them and we can also build a team with people who really get all that stuff. But entrepreneurship is really different, it’s far more about, I guess all of this feeling and emotion which is much more in that branding world or whatever. I think that sometimes even when you get people who… Once you’ve become very successful, other people want in on that and a lot of times they can look at it from the outside and say, “Okay, this is what’s happening, they’re dropping flavors this often they’re creating flavors that do this and that gets media attention. But they also have classic flavors for other people.” You can put it all out linearly and I can’t tell you how many copycats I’ve seen over many years.
F Geyrhalter: Congrats.
Jeni B Bauer: But the graveyard is full of them because it is so much more work and it’s so much more emotional and you really have to give everything to it to create something that people really do care about. In some business ideas you can do it more flatly. I just don’t think that ice cream is that kind of a world. Ice cream is a very emotional, very personal thing to do. Much more than, casual food or casual dining or some of the other worlds of business. It really is about personality and every flavor is personal to someone and that’s something that you can’t just put out on a linear business plan. Be like, we’re going to go open the Jeni’s in Brooklyn or we’re going to go open something like Jeni’s in this place. Because it really is much, much more than… It’s so fun that way too but-
F Geyrhalter: Of course, exactly. That’s why you do what you do. Talking about meaningful communities and creating more deeper meaning, you have been a Henry Crown Fellow. First congrats, that’s a big achievement, tell us a bit about that experience and I’m curious as to how you see that personal growth effecting your brand’s values and the daily actions.
Jeni B Bauer: Well, we as a company have always been very connected with our community. First of all, we didn’t have a lot of money to start up at all. We just started working with other people in the community and just getting out and being as genuine as we could in as many places as we possibly could. We’ve been very connected and I think that our story’s always been about asking other people for help and then paying them back with helping them. That’s this community spirited company that we’ve become and that’s what the Henry Crown fellowship is all about. It’s about community, spirited leadership but it was the one of the most impactful things, maybe the most impactful thing I’ve ever done in my life. We get under these like islands when we’re entrepreneurs and it’s actually a very lonely, you get used to being alone because your ideas are usually, other people think of them as really stupid then you figure out how to make it work. It’s actually hard to get people to come on board, and you’re just living out there all the time doing that. But the Henry Crown Fellowship finds a lot of people who are in that same place in their life. Usually it at that moment of change in a life or there’s an impactful moment happening an inflection and they put all of us together and it’s this mosaic of people from all different kinds of businesses, all different levels of success all over the country. I think they have 40 something points of diversity and then they put these 20 people together in a room and you spend four weeks together over two years and it’s incredible. You learn about the history of how leadership works in the world, back to the ancient philosophers. You start to look forward and think about what your impact can be in the things that you need. It really makes you very aware of every decision that you’re making. In addition to the fact that once you’re a Henry Crown Fellow, you really do represent the Henry Crown Fellowship in your life. There’s something really special about that too, you really do think a lot about every action that you make, even more than you did, I think before.
F Geyrhalter: Subliminally it becomes part of everything Jeni’s does, as a brand because it’s your actions, right?
Jeni B Bauer: I think it does. We want to live up to the expectations there, but also it’s really beautiful. It’s what we always wanted to do and maybe didn’t know how in some ways there’s certainly me personally and just having that. I think it really builds context and perspective about where we fit in the world and how change is made and how history moves very slowly. We all want things to happen right now, especially when we’re entrepreneurs, but you have to just keep steady and never give up and there’s a lot of that that goes on. We’ve been a B corporation for a long time, we know that business can be a very powerful force for good and even in early American business, the business leaders understood that. It’s an important part about business, whether you’re a B Corp or not, how you give back to the world that that supported you as you grew and as you became, who you become. Anyway, we’ve always known that we were a certified B Corp for that reason because we think it’s important that we’ve actually put our money where our mouth is, where we actually can then say, but we’re certified. We’re not just saying we’re making these. I would rather be a B Corp and just say well, we’re doing our best and you can trust us because it’s certified by this third party, then put another label on our pint. Even something like all natural or organic or non GMO and there’s so many labels that make you… All of those are fine, but we just believe in much, much bigger picture I guess than that.
F Geyrhalter: It’s already the status quo. It’s like, yes, of course your ice cream will be, all of these things, right. If you have to B Corp stamp on it already in a way says, “Yeah, of course we do this.”
Jeni B Bauer: Well, it’s important to build your company as a community and people are the most important thing. That is the thing that’s important, not organic, not non-GMO, not all the other things you can put on it, but did you pay that person fairly, whether they’re local, regional, national or international? Where did you get it from, were there children picking those things. Those are the important things, that people are the most important thing that we can support, of course our land and our earth and children and all of that. Those things have always been more important to us, I would rather look somebody in the eye and make an agreement that we’re going to continue to grow and get better together. Than to say, I need organic strawberries. I want Mike and his brother Steve growing our strawberries because we can continue to get better over time when we worked together.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. You named your brand after, after your first shop in 96 was called Scream, you named the new brand Jeni’s, yet at the same time, back then when you relaunched, you decided to separate your personality away from the brand a bit. Long gone were Jeni’s pink hair and funky art student clothes and instead you started wearing a pharmacy like very white clinical outfits. From a branding perspective, this leaves me puzzled, why did you do this? How did this go, suddenly it’s Jeni’s and it’s your brand.
Jeni B Bauer: Well, first of all, I didn’t want to call it Jeni’s. I had a couple of other names, but because I had worked every day at the market, people didn’t even remember that it was called Scream. They were just like, let’s go see Jeni, let’s go to the Jeni’s. They all already called it that. As a Midwesterner, we don’t usually put our names on things. It’s just like, we’re all very community oriented I think and were just very humble to a fault actually sometimes. But I knew that my friends were right that you can’t add another, it couldn’t be called Scream, but everybody called it Jeni’s and I have a new name for it when I launched again. I did it, I called it Jeni’s and I was really happy that I did, it really makes you focus in a different way when the company’s named after you. I would make sure that every dish was washed every, that we never ran out of certain flavors that were very popular. You actually really do, when you put your name on it, you absolutely try to live up to that. It really makes a difference when it’s your name, not just some made up thing, but the funny thing is when I was at Scream. I was a young woman, pink hair trying to break into the culinary world, trying to get a food critic to notice I’m trying. I was in a market that was of a culinary space and trying to get people to notice what I was doing. I think they just thought I was just goofy, so from a branding perspective, I think I was giving off that vibe to be honest. When I opened Jeni’s, and this is that… If I was a customer, what would I want from my ice cream maker? I would want that person to be there and look like they’re here to make the best ice cream in the entire world. I started wearing, a white shirt every single day, a white apron. I would want them to know that. It wasn’t about the person, but it was about the ice cream and the product and the team and the customers. I just took all emphasis off of me and made it about… It’s funny because even though I formed it-
F Geyrhalter: I know exactly, at the same time you called it Jeni’s.
Jeni B Bauer: Maybe that’s why it worked because it wasn’t me just parading around with my pink hair and saying like I’m the artist, come see what I’ve got to do every day. But it was me saying I’m taking responsibility for your experience and that’s all that matters to me here.
F Geyrhalter: You basically signed it with Jeni’s, right? Yeah, exactly. Are there ever time’s, especially these days with social media. Are there ever times where you wish you would be a little, bit more removed from the brand because you are the brand as a person. Your name is the verbal and visual brand anchor and you are the representative of the brand. Are there ever moments where you just feel like it wouldn’t hurt if I would be one step removed or do you actually fully embrace your true self transparently for the world to see?
Jeni B Bauer: I do embrace it. I didn’t for a really long time, only fairly recently. But I do because I feel that I represent the people that work here and the work that we do collectively as a community and that is something that’s very important to me and I would never want to let them down. It’s not that I could go out and just represent me or that my wishes or things that, I purposely created this community after we had the failure of Scream. I wanted Jeni’s to be about people coming together more like a fellowship. We call it a fellowship a lot in the same way that the Lord of the Rings is a fellowship where you bring, the sword and somebody else brings the ax and everybody’s bringing something awesome in and then together we become something greater than the sum of it’s parts. For me, I feel like I’m just a part of that and I get to keep it going and I keep supporting it and trying to keep it healthy. Then I go out and represent that and also I still will know more about ice cream than anybody else in here. I’ll hang out with our customers longer than anybody else will because I care so deeply about it. That never not working that entrepreneurs do, I definitely do that, but I do think that in that way a founder’s role is a very specific role. I’m not the CEO of our company and that’s important to us. I will say that like being a founder is the really specific role. You really do have to know more about your products and your customers than anybody else. That is more than enough for a more than full time job and that’s what I do.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Let’s talk about company culture for a minute because you hinted at it, it is important to you as to most other entrepreneurs who rely on the work of many others, to keep the engines going. You said and I don’t know where you said it, it might’ve been on Instagram you said, “Our ambassadors become jedis of emotion, facial expressions and body language. They learn that flavor is everything, and by flavor I mean character, they learn what it means to put your name on it and other lessons about teamwork and community. I should know, I spent 10 years behind the counter daily. I use those lessons every day.” How did you build your culture and what mechanisms do you have in place to keep it going? It is really, really difficult, I talk to people who have franchises and I talked to people who have 30 plus stores like you. How did you create it and how do you spread it in a way where it is very intrinsic but yet personal but yet you create this, linear brand experience.
Jeni B Bauer: Well, I think now you don’t have, there isn’t a curtain behind the or between the back of the house and in front of the house anymore in a business or a brand. Or at least with what we’re doing and other company founders and companies that I know are, are similar and that we actually are our brand. We are what you hope we are, we’re not just pictures that we put out our ice creams we you put out we’re the decisions that we make every single day as a team. I think people want to work on teams that are really transparent, that actually are what you hope they are when you’re on the outside. I always say we can’t tell every single story that happens here because it will be too many and it’s just too much. It’s overload. We tell our best stories externally, but the more you want to dig and go into it, the more your hopes are confirmed. When you are company like that and the word company is great because it means you’re not alone, it means community. That’s how we think here, people want to be a part of that, they want to bring their awesomeness into that. That is how you build your culture is by being open to what somebody else is bringing in and we don’t everybody in the company to have a specific look to them or whatever. We want people of all ages and all different colors and all different genders and all of that stuff. That’s our company, that’s who we are. That becomes what people know about us and feel when they’re in our space. That it really is about character and flavor, at every level. What’s great when you’re a company that lives up to your external voice internally, people want to be a part of that team, so you start attracting some, of the top talent in. We have definitely absolute top talent here in America and not because we pay better than everybody else, it’s because people want to be a part of what we’re doing. That’s really wonderful and it’s because… I would say that it’s really hard and it’s also not really that hard. It’s not like you have to go through a training program, it’s not like everybody carries around a mission statement. I don’t think if you walked around where I’m sitting right now and there’s 40 people sitting not too far from me, I don’t think that if you asked… Every one of them would give you a slightly different idea of what we do in this company and it would all be right. It wouldn’t be one practiced mission statement.
F Geyrhalter: That’s really great and I love the metaphor of flavor. How flavor is actually part of this company.
Jeni B Bauer: It works so well.
F Geyrhalter: It works so well.
Jeni B Bauer: Even if you look up the word flavor in the dictionary, it says character, the essential character of something. When we think about our company, we really think about flavor a lot. That flavor is what surrounds you. It’s who you are, what you do. It’s your bookshelf, your record shelf, your travels, everything that makes up you and certainly how we work together as well.
F Geyrhalter: When you said, about no curtain between back and front of the house, that’s also true with no curtain between the founder and the brand and the customer and all of that. In April you endorsed Joe Biden in one of your Instagram posts. Actually, you’re pretty much a Joe Biden fan, I would say.
Jeni B Bauer: Joe loves ice cream and I do love Joe. I do Joe. Joe was going through a really hard time in 2015 I was having a tough time too. He became really truly a beacon for me. I have to say that I am for anyone who moves us out of this era that we’re in and I will throw my support behind anybody. I don’t know if it’s a complete endorse. He got into the race and I just was giving my friend because at this point Joe is a friend of mine, a fist bump and saying, “Man, I’m going to be behind you. I’ll be behind you as far as you go and let’s get you the nomination.” But, I would say there’s other people that I’m also right behind. At the moment I’m wearing an Andrew Yang hat, the math hat, I have a hat from every one of the candidates.
F Geyrhalter: Same for me.
Jeni B Bauer: I like many people, I am for whoever will win and I’ll put my support behind them. But of course, I love Biden because he loves ice cream so much, how can you not? He’s an incredible human being of course and I’ve gotten to spend lots of time with him, I do know that for sure, that’s important.
F Geyrhalter: Last February, you had this amazing Instagram posts that read, “Hey FedEx team Jeni’s loves you, but we’re not playing around. Our customers are demanding action from us. Drop your support of the NRA, or we will be looking at other options.” That’s almost 100,000 shipments and by the way, now I’m sure it’s much more than that and more projected this year. Do you feel obligated to utilize the power of your brand to create the change you seek? What would you say to those few that like your product but they don’t share your political point of view?
Jeni B Bauer: The answer to the first part is, yes, as a human being, not necessarily as a company. Although our company definitely stands for character and flavor and people and we will always fight for human rights and humanity first, that world no matter what the political ramifications are or whatever. That’s just something that’s built into our DNA and who we are. We don’t pick candidates as a company ever, ever, ever, we do believe that you should be you and that you should be proud of that and whatever that is, you should rock it and be that. But I think also be open to other things, so as a person representing that world, I get to do that as well. My platform is my stuff, it’s the Jeni Britton Bauer world. It’s not the Jeni’s world necessarily, they cross over. On my Instagram, of course the FedEx thing is a whole different thing. I was as a mother, so upset about what happened in Parkland, it was-
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely.
Jeni B Bauer: During that time.
F Geyrhalter: It’s not even political.
Jeni B Bauer: It really isn’t at that point. However, I learned a big lesson during that time. I learned, I guess how big my platform actually is and I’ve got to be careful and I know that because first, I don’t want to alienate other people. I do like people who have different opinions than me, actually, I’m more curious about you if you’re different than me than I am if you’re the same. That’s important, but I learned something with that. I haven’t, I haven’t done something quite so dramatic since then.
F Geyrhalter: Picking in the past, that’s totally not fair.
Jeni B Bauer: Yeah, and it wasn’t that long ago but, nevertheless I do think that we can have we can actually make more change, a slightly quietly than we can just by getting out and complaining it loudly. We have a potential to actually make big change and that’s what we’re focused on. That’s what we’re working on. I think it doesn’t really help. I think that actually, that FedEx post did help ultimately they did drop their-
F Geyrhalter: That’s amazing.
Jeni B Bauer: Probably it had little to do with us but nevertheless.
F Geyrhalter: Who knows, right. I’m sure it’s the voice of many that creates change for a company like that. Your tagline is Jeni’s makes it better. I think just how we talked about flavor and how it has double meaning, that has double meaning too, Jeni’s makes it better. On one hand, that’s the product.
Jeni B Bauer: So much meaning.
F Geyrhalter: How it makes you feel, but it really encompasses most probably your brand’s core values if you have written them down or not. It is who you are.
Jeni B Bauer: It’s you lose the game, we make it better, you win the game, we make it better and that’s part of it. And it’s all of our community of makers, growers and producers who are actually making product and making our ice creams. Actually, that’s literally how we make it, but it’s just really fun, we’ve had so much fun with that.
F Geyrhalter: You created amazing ice cream, a beloved brand, but really you created a cult like following. What does branding mean to you, Jeni Britton Bauer?
Jeni B Bauer: Oh my goodness. Well, I would just say it means it’s the culture, it’s how you make people feel, it’s who you are. I always think of entrepreneurship is building your own world. Your brand is your world that you’re creating. I’m in favor of the Willy Wonka school of entrepreneurship.
F Geyrhalter: Of course, you are.
Jeni B Bauer: Not, whenever, not business school entrepreneurship and I think your brand is your world. When people step into it, what are they experiencing? What does it look like when they look around? What are they feeling and that’s what it is. That’s been so much fun for us to create and we’re still creating it.
F Geyrhalter: And the fun shows. What is one word that can describe your brand? I like to call it your brand’s DNA, if you would have to sum up all these parts, what is one word?
Jeni B Bauer: I think if I was going to choose one, it would be belonging. When I started in ice cream I thought, can I make an ice cream shop where people like me and that was the artists of the world or the people who wanted to be artists. Or the alternative people or the whatever progressive thinkers wanted to go because, all the ice cream shops that I had seen were backward looking. They were all nostalgic it was a lot of grandparents and grandchildren. I was like, can I make an ice cream shop for everybody else and that was just all of my friends. A lot of us just didn’t feel like we belonged in some of those other places and we really created a place that celebrates as we keep going back to flavor and people and character and curiosity and all of that. That sense of belonging, we want you to feel that when you’re in our world, but that’s what we’re trying to create as a company of people too. Whether it’s our makers, growers, producers, or other people who drive our ice cream around or the people who are doing artwork for us. We all belong together.
F Geyrhalter: People feel that and looking through your Instagram and the stories that you tell of customers. They come back every month too. Yeah.
Jeni B Bauer: Much bigger than ice cream and yet if the ice cream wasn’t perfect, they wouldn’t come back. It means with all these mostly if the ice cream was not good, all of that wouldn’t matter, and yet, and if all of that was… You have to have all of it, it has to all be there. Not everything has to be perfect, but it has to all align in a certain magical way.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. In the end it’s still about ice cream and that begs me to ask a question that usually you like to ask others. Jeni if you were an ice cream flavor, what would it be?
Jeni B Bauer: Oh my goodness.
F Geyrhalter: I’m using your own tools here.
Jeni B Bauer: Yes. If I was an ice cream flavor I would probably a caramel. We started making salty caramel a long time ago and I had heard about it in France, I’d heard of that in front in France there was burnt sugar and then there’s salted caramel. I didn’t have money to travel to France, so I thought they meant Swedish licorice, it was actually salty. I started making a caramel ice cream that was salty, a little extra salty but anyway, I would be that because caramel is one thing, I think it’s caramelized. A lot of people use a flavoring because caramelization is, sugar burns at 385 degrees or whatever, and you’ve got to burn the sugar. It’s very dangerous and it’s a very precise process. But in the end when you’re like licking it off of a cone, it’s very simple. It’s just buttery. It’s beautiful, it’s nostalgic, it takes you back to your grandmother’s kitchen or whatever and it’s just this really beautiful scientific process that makes it, and it’s complex and yet also super simple and that’s it.
F Geyrhalter: You like it for the process too because you see behind the curtains as you actually indulge in it which is great.
Jeni B Bauer: It’s handwork. We can’t make caramel by time or temperature or any of the other things you can do. You have to actually get good at what it smells like and what it looks like. And when you’re the one that’s caramelizing the sugar, it’s really not about time or temperature, it’s about just how does it look and smell. Every batch is slightly different of our salted caramel on all hand done.
F Geyrhalter: It’s beautiful. One piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway, perhaps a four for one of the hundreds of thousands that have read your James Beard award, winning New York times bestseller, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and one to take a step at actually stepping into your footsteps and doing it professionally. Do you have any advice that you learned over your, 20 years of running, I don’t know how many years is exact but about that. That and plus. I think it’s to, to create a vision of what’s possible of what you think, you can do. For me it was, to create this world around ice cream and there was no guarantee I was going to make it and there still isn’t. But you get that vision in your head of what it looks like and then you can close your eyes and imagine it. Once you lock into that vision, then you can do one thing today to get you there. Then one more thing tomorrow to get you there and one more thing the next day. That’s really what it has been for me. It’s better if you don’t start with a ton of money. If somebody had given me $10 million in 2004 I would have built a really big ice cream plant and that would have put me into major debt and I wouldn’t have known what I was doing anyway. I had to learn all of these things the hard way and then you just get this vision and you just do one step a day and don’t go too fast. It’s just that one person at a time, one step a day, but be led by your vision and dream about that. I still to this day can sit for an hour or sit quietly and put myself into that vision, which I still have. Every year, I have a new add addition to that vision that I have of in the future. I think that’s important to be a vision led person and have a good imagination. One that you really enjoy spending time, in I think where you can really quiet yourself and sit there and just dream and then build that slowly.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely love it. Listeners in the US which I believe is the only place where Jeni’s is currently available who needed pint or three-
Jeni B Bauer: The book is in Germany.
F Geyrhalter: Oh the book is in Germany, the book is most probably global right at this point.
Jeni B Bauer: Well, the book is in German and you can probably find the book globally, but it is actually, has been translated in German and it did really well. We’ve got like a new edition now and then I’m in China.
F Geyrhalter: That’s fantastic.
Jeni B Bauer: Taking it places. Yep.
F Geyrhalter: That is awesome. As far as picking up a pint or three or six or nine, which I believe is how you ship them, where can people go? The last question, which is part of this and in the same vein, what are your top three winter flavors for people to pick?
Jeni B Bauer: Oh my goodness. Well, you go to Jeni.com, it’s J-E-N-I-S.com.
F Geyrhalter: That’s the easy part.
Jeni B Bauer: All, of the Whole Foods in America carry our ice creams, which is pretty great. And a bunch of other top grocers across the country. You can go to our website and find out what we call a pint finder and that’ll direct you to somewhere near you. Probably the top winter flavors, we have a bunch coming out after the holidays too, which are going to be really fun. But right now I’m going all in on the Cognac and Gingerbread. It’s a dark caramel cognac ice cream and this incredible black strap, molasses gingerbread that we make, it’s just incredible. I also love white chocolate peppermint and it’s funny, a lot of people love it but it does not sell after January. We can only sell it in December and then after that nobody wants it anymore. Really just such a great flavor and we do it as like a pink, we color it with beets. It’s just like pink and white swirl with white chocolate and, it’s just incredible, it’s so good. Then we’ve been making sweet potato and toasted marshmallow forever and ever, we actually blow torch the marshmallows in our kitchen. It’s a really… We make the marshmallows and then we blowtorch them and then we put them in like a handmade sweet potato ice cream, it’s so incredible.
F Geyrhalter: It sounds amazing.
Jeni B Bauer: There’s many more coming next year and we have a lot of non-dairy flavors as well and those are winning innovation awards and they’re just gorgeous. They’re selling as well as our other ice creams, even with dairy eaters, so if you ever see any of our non-dairy ones, just get them because you’ll love them are actually my favorites right now. And that’s, I’m a dairy person, so.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah. Thank you Jeni for having been on the show. It was so much fun and we so appreciate your time and your insights. Thank you for not only what you’re doing, but also how you’re actually doing it. Last but not least happy holidays to you and your family.
Jeni B Bauer: Well, thank you so much. It’s been so much fun to be here and happy holidays back at you and all your listeners.
F Geyrhalter: I appreciate it. Thank you.
What a great story – from college dropout who hated math to an innovation award-winning entrepreneur who is making more than just ice cream better.
It is entrepreneurs like her that we can learn from how to craft true and meaningful brands and I am so grateful to have had Jeni on the show to round out this year.
And I am grateful for all of you who joined in supporting the show.
I want to thank the new Creative Brand Mentorship Circle members:
Xian Hijas from the Philippines and Goce Petrov out of Switzerland
The new Entrepreneur Brand Mentorship Circle members Rushit Hila from Towson, Maryland and Nathan Thompson from Redondo Beach, CA
And last but not least the first Golden Brand Circle member Ziad Aladdin from Köln, Germany and Devroni Liasoi Lumandan and Florian Phillippe out of L.A. for upgrading to the Golden Brand Circle.
Head on over to patreon.com/hittingthemark to become a supporter and to join this awesome community of creators.
The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won.
I wish all of you happy holidays. Don’t forget to sit down and re-think your brand based on the many insights from the founders who were on this show so you can craft a better brand for 2020 and beyond. I will see you next time – when we, once again, will be hitting the mark.