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career day / an ice cream maker…

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

If you’re from the Mid-West (or if you’re a huge ice cream fan like me), then you may have heard of Jeni’s Ice Cream. Jeni Britton Bauer (aka “Jeni”) is one of those entrepreneurs to appears to have a job that anyone would want—making ice cream, coming up with flavors, and creating joy for people all over the country with her sweet concoctions.

Jeni’s Ice Cream recently opened up a new shop right near me in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, so Ruby and I stopped by to chat with Jeni and get a behind-the-scenes peek at what it’s like to live and breathe ice cream. And (of course), to eat a little ice cream, too!

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

Here's a look at our visit to Jeni's for a Career Day field trip. I’ve also asked Jeni to share a bit about her history, growing an ice cream empire, and what she’s hoping it’s all leading to some day…

Jeni's Ice Cream / Los Angeles

When and why did you start Jeni's? / In the early ‘90s I was messing around with ice cream, collecting scents, and studying art at Ohio State. During a figure drawing class one day, a model I didn’t like to draw walked in. So, I got up, left my portfolio and all my supplies at my desk, and just walked out. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this any more. I want to make ice cream.’ I quit everything else, too—school, side jobs—just threw myself into making ice cream and figuring out how to create a living doing that.

Within six months I started my first ice cream business, which didn't work. So, I took time off, traveled, lived, learned, and studied customer service. The thing that didn’t work at my first ice cream business was surprising people with new menus all the time. When I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002 in the North Market in Columbus, I made sure to offer signature flavors along with just a few surprises. 

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

When did you know you had something good? / The day we opened for business in November 2002—the day of the OSU/­Michigan football game. We thought we’d open that day to give ourselves a little warm up, to open softly, you know. OSU/­Michigan game day in Columbus is a holy day. Every man, woman, and child is glued to the TV on that day in Columbus. But much to our surprise there was a giant line all day. We’ve never looked back.

Jeni's Ice Cream / Los Angeles

If there were two of you, what other type of business would the other Jeni have? / I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, in the cradle of the greatest sandwich on earth, the breaded pork tenderloin. Other Jeni would open a joint that served from­ scratch breaded tenderloins on tiny white buns, served with dill pickles, homemade mustard, and potato salad. One pilsner on tap to wash it all down. 

Jeni's Ice Cream / Los Angeles

Do you take off on the weekends? / I’m never not working. I’m working the same way today as I did when I started making my own ice cream in the mid ‘90s: pretty much every moment I’m awake. I’m not bragging or complaining—whatever I’m reading, watching, listening to, and doing goes into whatever the next ice cream flavor is.

Sometimes I feel like a character in a comic book, like I fell into a vat of magical ice cream a couple decades ago and emerged with ice cream fused to my DNA. I go to work everyday thinking of how to improve the texture or body of my ice cream. Or how to get one flavor just right. I think about it constantly. And when I’m not thinking about it actively, there is a little spot on my brain that is always dedicated to only thinking about ice cream. It’s on no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It’s even on while I sleep. 

With 20 stores currently, what is your dream for your brand? World ice cream domination?  My only dream for this company is for us to make better ice cream tomorrow than we did today. One day at a time, that is what we’re trying to do here. As far as shops go, the goal has never been and never will be to open a chain of cookie-­cutter, look­-a­like shops. We own and operate our shops and I have my hands in every detail of the way each one looks and feels. I can’t imagine just opening a bunch of clone shops and just sitting back. I like the work too much. 

Jeni's Ice Cream / Los Angeles

Favorite ice cream? / I’ll never get tired of Lemon Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt. It’s so creamy, tart, and refreshing. I also LOVE it on pies in the summer!

Worst part about your job? / The existence of deadlines. I always think I can improve whatever ice cream we’re about to release! 

Best part about your job? / Being able to create something out of everything I absorb every day. This job didn’t just fall out of the sky for me. I had to make choices to create the opportunity for myself, but I’m proud and thankful I’m able to earn a living by creating something I dream up.

Jeni's Ice Cream / Los Angeles

One thing that has happened in your career that you never expected? / Giving speeches. It still floors me that people want to hear me tell my story. I’m always flattered.

One thing that has happened in your career that you completely expected and had hoped for? / When I was first messing around with ice cream, I mixed cayenne essential oil into regular store-­bought chocolate ice cream. I let it melt slowly on my tongue. It was cold, tasted like chocolate, and about five seconds later it burst into flames in the back of my throat. It was like the sky tore in two and light enveloped me. Right then I knew that ice cream would be my life. I didn’t know how I would do it, how long it would take, how many people, how much money, but I knew it was my path. For some crazy reason, I always thought there could be a place in the world where art, perfume, and ice cream could get along. I always thought that. And I guess it appears to be true. 

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

Jeni's Ice Cream / Career Day Field Trip

Even with a huge, booming business, Jeni remains kind, humble, and deeply grounded and loyal to her Mid-West roots. Thanks so much to Jeni and the team at Jeni's Ice Cream for an inspiring visit! I'm pretty sure Ruby enjoyed this Career Day field trip when she said afterwards that it was "the best day EVER!".

Jeni's Ice Cream | 1954 Hillhurst Avenue | Los Angeles, CA 90027 | 323-928-2668

{Photos by Casey Brodley for Oh Joy} 

37 comments

  1. Jeni, those sandwiches are also a HUGE part of my family, which has roots in Illinois, too. Please open up an artisanal pork tenderloin sandwich shop. Please oh please oh please. I’ll even come to Columbus on game day to try one (Go Blue!).

  2. Joy – I am in Columbus and L-O-V-E Jeni’s. Her production kitchen is 2 blocks from my house. She is great and the ice cream is amazing.

  3. Jeni’s just opened a second location here. It’s very nice that you got to interview her. Her ice cream and waffles are very good!

  4. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  5. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  6. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  7. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  8. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  9. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  10. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  11. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  12. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  13. What a wonderful story! And what a tribute to keep at what you love. So many people get disheartened by a first failure. This is a wonderful testament to hard work and making dreams come true. Thank you so much for this feature! I really enjoyed reading it!
    Circus & Bloom
    ♥♥♥

  14. I live in Chicago and Jeni’s is the BEST! I’m lactose intolerant but nothing will stop me from eating her delicious ice cream, and those amazing ice cream sandwiches!

  15. Love this! I went to OSU and have fond memories of eating Jeni’s while walking through Columbus. So happy she is successful and expanding – so well deserved. 🙂

  16. Hey Joy, just want to say that I loved this interview, not just because I love Jeni’s ice cream, but also because this felt like a real conversation where two businesswomen came to TALK and share.
    So many blogs do career/entrepreneur content these days, but it’s so clear the questions are emailed in advance and the interviewee is phoning it in. I loved the honesty and intimacy of this.

  17. Love the added dialogue! And being a Midwest girl myself, love Jeni’s (specifically the one in Chagrin Falls in Cleveland) 🙂

  18. Great interview, thanks Joy!! This is my favourite series you’ve done on the blog, so so looking forward to seeing more!

  19. Thanks so much Julianne! That means a lot! For this series, we really wanted to concentrate on those I could meet in person and really get a sense of who they are and what they do!
    Joy
    Sent from my iPhone

  20. This was such a lovely interview and profile of Jeni and her ice cream. I stumbled upon their ice cream truck at the Silverlake Flea on Valentine’s Day and promptly marked my calendar for the Los Feliz grand opening (right around the corner from my apartment). I can now say I was one of the crazy Angelenos to stand in line for…hours…the day of the grand opening. Jeni’s is such a wonderful business, creating delicious ice cream in a really conscious way. I hope to see more places like this pop-up in LA, and of course be featured on your blog.

  21. What a great and inspiring story to read, I really like your approach of giving a look into other creative businesses. It’s not just carreer day for Ruby, but a bit for all of us 🙂 Thanks!

  22. I loved this interview. I feel the same way when I read Kanye West interviews, there’s such resonance in her words about creativity and the feeling of being drawn to something for no reason and going to ends of your brain to make it work, and never thinking about whether it’s an absurd idea or not (well most of the time).
    some of her quotes that resonated with me:
    “I’m reading, watching, listening to, and doing goes into whatever the next ice cream flavor is.” Yes! It’s funny I just texted my friend (who is following a practical career path that she doesn’t love and keeps thinking about being something artistic.) that you know you’re creative when you’re always “researching” even when you’re just watching The. Mindy Project and has nothing directly related to your field.
    “I go to work everyday thinking of how to improve the texture or body of my ice cream. Or how to get one flavor just right. I think about it constantly. And when I’m not thinking about it actively, there is a little spot on my brain that is always dedicated to only thinking about ice cream. It’s on no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It’s even on while I sleep. ” Yes!
    “Right then I knew that ice cream would be my life. I didn’t know how I would do it, how long it would take, how many people, how much money, but I knew it was my path. ” Yes. When you want something, you try your best to make it happen, one way or another. Your dream might evolve, but the thread is always there.
    “. This job didn’t just fall out of the sky for me. I had to make choices to create the opportunity for myself, but I’m proud and thankful I’m able to earn a living by creating something I dream up.”
    Destiny is something you create

  23. I’ve heard so much about Jenis and loved the interview! Joy, where did you find that awesome tie dye jacket?

  24. Love Jeni’s ice cream – the coffee flavor is life changing! I had no idea she was from Peoria…where I am living right now! Great interview! Please open a shop in Ptown!

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