Q&A: Founder Jeni Britton Bauer on why you just have to start – in sustainability, entrepreneurship & focusing on people
Founder of B Corp Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams brings her farmers market attitude, magic & Splendid Ice Creams to Philly
When I made my first trip to Columbus in 2013, my native Ohioan friend exclaimed, ‘You have to go to Jeni’s.’
I did – and it lived up to the hype. So much, that I’ve made a point to visit Jeni’s during each of my trips to Nashville. Beyond the unique flavors like brambleberry or incorporating wine, cognac, and whiskey, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams doesn’t use synthetic flavorings, dyes, stabilizers, or emulsifiers.
Since Jeni Britton Bauer opened the Columbus staple in the North Market in 2002, it’s expanded nationwide to over 60 scoop shops and grocery stores.
And now, they’ve arrived in Philly. Jeni’s is finally opening its doors in Fishtown tonight with a party and another in Rittenhouse on December 16th.
Despite growing to over $42 million in sales in 2019 (with a 22% revenue increase in 2020), Britton Bauer still embodies the kindness, attitude, and grit of a small business. Perhaps you can attribute that to her start: After leaving art school in 1996 to start an ice cream business called ‘Scream,’ Brutton Bauer had to persuade the North Market managers to rent her the space. Although they didn’t think ice cream belonged in the market, she made the case complete with a VHS tape of a PBS episode profiling Bassetts Ice cream. “Most of our ethos comes from the farmer’s market. It’s like we work together, and just try to do the best we can,” stated Britton Bauer.
We talked with Jeni’s Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Jeni Britton Bauer, about her new Fishtown location, commitments to sustainability, and what it means to be a certified B Corp since 2013.
Q&A with Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Green Philly: Why are you coming to Philadelphia?
Jeni Britton Bauer: Philadelphia is an incredible city. I also have lots of friends here (note: including Dan Garafalo of Ecoconsult Solutions), so I get to visit a lot. Getting to know the city from a local’s eyes also ties you to that city. When the spaces opened up in Fishtown and Rittenhouse, it was a no-brainer.
You make promises to your customers and your team first. And you gotta live up to that.Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Why is being a B Corp important to you?
Jeni Britton Bauer: I don’t know that anybody else cares that we’re a B Corp, very few people do it. As a business, there’s a lot of things that you do behind the scenes that nobody will ever know about.
We have limited resources – we’re selling ice cream, which is a really hard thing to do actually. But we’re really scrappy, and we stretch every dollar to make a lot of stuff happen.
Being a certified B Corp is important to me because a lot of businesses will sponsor a 5k and say that they’re good for the community. It’s not that they’re not, but being a B Corp means something much bigger than that. There’s a whole bunch of good reasons to be a B-Corp, but I think the biggest one is just to be who you say you are, you know what I mean? You make promises to your customers and your team first. And you gotta live up to that.
How do you source ingredients?
Jeni Britton Bauer: We have central kitchens because ice cream is a really complicated thing to make the way that we make it. We start with what the cows eat and always source grass-pastured milk. We just do everything from scratch, like making marshmallows. We don’t use stabilizers, emulsifiers, corn syrup, things like that. It is really dependent on how we homogenize and pasteurize, etc. And that would be hard to train in other places.
Columbus is a central place where we’re within a day’s drive of 60% of the population in North America. We can then source a lot of those ingredients from around. It’s not necessarily about local for us, but even in the market, there were the farmers, but then there was also the person who knew the best chocolate. So really it’s about where are these ingredients coming from? How close can we get to the people who grew them or brought them to life?
What we want to do is take our customer’s money and give it to either one of our employees or somebody who made something for us, whether that’s nearby or on the other side of the world. For us, it’s really more about people than anything else.
“People get in their own way when they think they can’t do it. And you’ll never be perfect at it. Like there’s always stuff that’s going wrong. But it’s not about that. It’s about doing what you can now and just committing to getting better.”– Jeni Britton Bauer on practicing sustainability
How are you incorporating sustainability in your business?
Jeni Britton Bauer: We achieved the stores being zero waste in the front of the house. We replaced all of our dipping wells so that the water isn’t just circulating, we’ve done actual composting, where we literally have picked up by a local small business.
Some of that had to be put on hold during COVID because we weren’t serving that way. But that will come back. It’s an important thing for us. It’s hard, but it’s not that hard. It’s doable.
People get in their own way when they think they can’t do it. And you’ll never be perfect at it. Like there’s always stuff that’s going wrong. But it’s not about that. It’s about doing what you can now and just committing to getting better.
Things like sustainability are choices that we’d get to make because we’re doing together. Entrepreneurship is an act of co-creation with your team and your customers.
I feel like I just have a different view of entrepreneurship. I was boots on the ground, in the market, making ice cream, serving customers in the market for 10 years before we ever started growing. That’s why I know how to do it. I’m a big advocate for starting small and building businesses. That’s what I am out talking about all the time, is that anyone in America should be able to start where they’re at and build anything they can imagine. It’s hard, but it isn’t harder than life. And you shouldn’t have to take money from and make money for people who already have money.
A lot of people have tried to make an ice cream company like ours and they don’t succeed because they don’t know that it really isn’t about the ice cream. It’s about just how we make people feel. The reason that people feel good in our space is that they trust us and they believe in what we’re doing. And they don’t even know all this stuff that we’re doing behind the scenes.
Do you have plans to get involved in the local community?
Jeni Britton Bauer: We want to be a part of the community. We call our shopkeepers ‘shopkeepers’ because that’s what I always called myself at the market. I remember looking at old pictures of the mom-and-pop grocery store or the old hardware store with the people who owned it, standing outside in their long aprons and a sweep. Being out on the sidewalk and sweeping was always my favorite thing to do because you meet people, and you can smile at people, and you can be a part of the community.
I want people in our shops who work there to feel that and to feel ownership of this space. Like if I feel good about this space, then I can make other people feel good about it.
If you go: Jeni’s Fishtown Grand Opening Party with free ice cream is tonight at 7 PM at 1322 Frankford Ave, Unit 101. The first 50 people get a free swag bag.
Cover photo: Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder & Chief Creative Officer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in La Colombe, Fishtown. Photos by Julie Hancher