How Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Is Taking Over One Scoop At A Time

When I was 10 years old,
I was running by my grandmother. She was standing in the kitchen stirring
a pot and I was over at her house a lot. She stopped me in my tracks and
she said, “Jeni, you’re so lucky because you can be whatever
you want to be. You can be a doctor, you can be
a lawyer, you can be an astronaut. It wasn’t like that for me. You know, you’re really lucky.” And I was like, “Thanks, Grandma!” And I just darted off. But I remember, when I ran out
the door to go outside, in that moment, I thought, “Well, if that’s true,
then I’ll be an ice cream maker.” I started making ice cream when
I was studying art at Ohio State University and I figured out
that ice cream is like this perfect canvas for telling stories and
scent and flavor sort of blooms in ice cream. We had a chocolate merchant and a
spice merchant and all sorts of incredible ingredients — wines, cheeses — that
I got to play with for four years, I was
open for four years. Closed that business and then opened
Jeni’s back in the same market in 2002, and the rest is history. There’s one called Bangkok Peanut. That was inspired by a Thai
woman in the North Market. And it’s coconut milk
and peanut and cayenne. That was one of my early flavors
and it’s still one of our most popular to this day. I mean, that’s going on, I don’t
know, going on 25 years, I guess. Oh, my first, first, first flavors
were, I mean, Salty Caramel, which I learned from a French chef that
I had worked for just prior to opening my first shop in 1996. And people would drive in from
the surrounding states to get it. Wildberry Lavender, which is a flavor
that we still have that I’ve been making since then. Chocolate was an interesting one because I
had to work really hard on chocolate. Chocolate will dry out the ice
cream if you add a lot to it. So a lot of ice cream
makers struggle with making a really dark chocolate that’s actually
super full-flavored. So I worked on that for many
years and finally figured that one out. I actually don’t love the idea
that our ice cream is expensive. I just think that our ice cream
is what it needs to be. If we want this kind of ice cream,
we have to pay people who make, grow, produce the
ingredients for it. And it’s really the only
way to get it. It really is about is it worth
it and is it better? And can you taste all the nuances? And is the cream lush and creamy,
and is it everything you ever hoped for? Then, I think it’s worth it. And I think that’s
what people are after. Starting in Columbus, Ohio was just one
of the best things that we could have done. If I’d had to start on
High Street or whatever, I just wouldn’t have been able
to make rent. I had a lot to learn, I had
to learn about all that stuff, but also because we have access, of course,
to agriculture and all the ingredients we could ever use. But then the other thing is
we can ship from Columbus, Ohio. It’s within a day’s drive of like
60% of the population of North America. I’ve never, first of all, met a
farmer who doesn’t want to grow or even involve some of the neighboring
farms, and we’re nowhere near the place yet where we need to
worry about when we’re going to run out of like farms who
will grow strawberries for us. We’re not even close to that. We love working directly
with our farmers. We have a whole team of people at
Jeni’s whose job it is just to keep these relationships going. We celebrate them. We love them, whether it’s a
goat cheese maker from Cleveland, Ohio or our whiskey distiller right down the
street from us or our growers or our dairy families. So, I think that’s just why
we exist as a company first. And so we do that first. And it’s true of our own team
as well, taking care of those people first so that we can
take care of everybody else. People are drawn to our ice creams
because, people — and I’m the same way, and I’ve worked the counter for
so many years — sort of see themselves in their
flavors, you know? So, if you’re a chocolate person,
or a whiskey-nut person or a tart-sherbet kind of person, it’s
like a reflection of you. So it’s really fun to come to
Jeni’s and to taste all the flavors, even if you end up with your
old standby, because that’s just like your flavor, which we know
that’s what you’re doing. But ice cream is
very personal for people.

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