Jeni Britton Bauer founded Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for one very simple and cool girl reason: She thought she could make ice cream better. Jeni’s beginning may have been simple, but her journey has been anything but. Her company creates incredibly innovative ice cream flavors made from the very best ingredients, like sweet corn spoon bread and brambleberry crisp. As if that’s not enough, they’re also focused on building and fostering a community that does good for the world. We had the chance to catch up with Jeni to talk culture, community, collections and, yes, ice cream — ALL of the ice cream. Scroll on to discover what this culinary genius has up her sleeve.
B+C: What inspired you to start Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream?
JBB: I thought ice creams could be better and more interesting. I made my first ice cream back in 1996 using cayenne essential oil that I added to store-bought milk chocolate ice cream. It was spicy and sweet. The sky opened up and I could see my whole life in front of me.
B+C: Can you explain a little bit about your B Corp certification? Why was this important for you to obtain?
JBB: We’ve always just done what felt like the right thing to do, even way back before B Corps were a thing. I think that getting this difficult certification helps show the world that we mean it, and it’s not just a marketing play. It’s a way to express what we’ve always been doing, like using Direct Trade and Fair Trade ingredients. It’s a philosophy deeply engrained in the way we work.
B+C: How has obtaining the B Corp certification shaped your business? Your community?
JBB: The certification hasn’t necessarily shaped our business, but rather, it calls attention to what we are, and always have been doing. It’s not the easy route. But we believe that we are forging a path for the next generation of better businesses and the whole good food movement. This work is essential to who we are and what we do. It is the reason we exist as a company.
B+C: Why is being connected to your community such an integral part of Jeni’s DNA?
JBB: It’s not just about building community where we live, but building a community and bringing people together, wherever we go. We have always been about people first. Actually building relationships is more important to us than the latest marketing trend or buzzword. It takes hundreds of people to bring an ice cream to life, from our own team through our network of growers, producers, makers and suppliers. It’s important for us to buy from people who make or grow what they do where it is best geographically to do so, and by the people who do it best.
B+C: Your company went through a very public recall in 2015. Why was it important to be so transparent about the process with the public?
JBB: For the past 13 years, we’ve built our business on relationships with other people, namely our customers. As with any relationship, when you fall short, honesty and openness is the best chance you have to maintain trust and to earn forgiveness. You own it, even when it sucks. And then you get better to make sure whatever happened doesn’t happen again.
B+C: What did you learn from the 2015 recall?
JBB: We found so many ways to benefit from this journey almost immediately. And to emerge a better, stronger, tougher and more interesting company. Seeking and embracing change is in our company DNA. One other thing we did last year was look around to find opportunities to get better. That included safety. We have always been good at sanitation and food safety, but we are so much better now. We believe that our efforts today are setting the standards for good food production in the 21st century, including restructuring of our production model, which is extraordinarily complex.
B+C: Can you talk a little about your sourcing process? Why is local important? Does having relationships with your farmers and suppliers make you a better business, and if so, how?
JBB: We believe we should buy ingredients from where they grow best, like grass-grazed milk from Northeast Ohio, or vanilla beans from Uganda. We seek out people we like, who think entrepreneurially and who want to grow with us. We value buying directly from people we know and have relationships with over simply buying local to say “it’s local.” We think that’s what makes us stronger, more interesting. We never want to build a homogenous community.
B+C: Why is it important for business leaders to be committed to their communities?
JBB: If only because we live in them. That’s enough.
B+C: How do you stay creative?
JBB: Being creative is about solving problems, answering questions. I stay curious, and that leads to the questions. And I do that by reading, listening, looking and following my curiosities to the very end.
B+C: What’s your advice for women entrepreneurs?
JBB: You were born to do this, girl!
B+C: Jeni’s collections, like your latest American Licks, are well-loved. Can you talk a little bit about the process of developing these collections?
JBB: Each collection is unique. Some need to be more traditional, like holidays, because we all crave specific things then. Some can push the boundaries more, like in spring and winter. I generally start with a question: If we remove context from flavors that we think are outdated, and combine nostalgia with historical record, will we see them with new eyes? That can lead to other questions like: Which is more truthful, what it was or what you believe it was? So a lot of these are experiments. For spring, we are inspired by a car, but more, we are inspired about a personal journey, and the flavors are stops along the way. It’s looking at the idea of growing, finding your own way and becoming who you want to be.
B+C: We have to ask! What’s your favorite flavor of all-time?
JBB: Lemon… and maybe green mint chip, but I’m still processing that.
Have you tried Jeni’s? Tweet us your fave flavors at @BritandCo!
(Photos via Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream)