After living Columbus for nearly 4 years (Whoa. Where does time go?) and hearing about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at least once a day, a few weekends ago I finally broke down and made the trek from my suburban haven to the nearest Jeni’s hub to give it a whirl and find out what all the hype was about.
Boy had I been missing out! I would have kicked myself for not trying Jeni’s sooner, but I was far too busy shoveling spoonful after spoonful of “Backyard Mint” and “Salty Caramel” into my face. YumYum.
As I stood out front eating, watching a line 30 people deep snaking out the door patiently at 9:00 p.m., I had to ask myself – what was REALLY behind the powerful local love for Jeni’s? The ice cream was spectacular, but is dessert really enough to warrant a love response? Ask almost anyone in the central Ohio area where you should go for an ice cream fix and 9 out of 10 people will invariably respond with a very enthusiastic: “Jeni’s!” They will then proceed to list all the Jeni’s locations around town, draw you a map to each and include a listing of Jeni’s flavors you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least sample.
And that response is more than a like. It’s a love.
Conventional wisdom tells us like attracts like, so does that mean love attracts love?
And where does love come from? The heart. And though you may not find it on the menu, Jeni’s has a whole lot of that.
So what really makes Jeni’s so (pardon the pun) cool? The short answer is: their passion. A passion that defines them. A passion founded in community. A passion that takes prides in product and people.
With their mantra “pasture to table, cow to cone,” not only does Jeni’s embrace a sense of shared ownership with the farmers, growers and producers who work with them hand-in-hand to bring their flavors to life – with humble splenditude, Jeni’s invites their patrons to become a part of that shared ownership, too. Suddenly it doesn’t matter if you’re a dairy farmer, a mint grower, a delivery driver, a staff scooper or the customer on the other side of the counter – you are simply a part of IT.
A local success story with an outpouring of love for the locals, Jeni’s Ice Cream is a product of community. And the community feels that love and loves them back for it.
“Here we are,” Jeni’s says, “This is us. Hello. Meet our staff. Our cows. Our growers. Come into our kitchen. Let us teach you. We want to learn from you. You’re not just a customer, you are our neighbor. Learn what is important to us, and why what is important to you is important to us, too.” Armed with a solid product and a welcoming openness, Jeni’s invites their customers to meet the local hands, hearts and hooves behind each scoop and cone, meaning it’s no longer just that ice cream, it’s our ice cream. And they’re not just those people, they’re our people.
I hopped on Jeni’s official blog this afternoon and chuckled at the photo you will find at the top of this blog post (courtesy of gloriously talented foodie photog Stacy Newgent … who could make burnt toast look good.)
Upon further reflection, I began find a quiet (or, as the case may be, not-so-quiet) wisdom in that photo. When you’re doing something right, when you’re inspiring a fan or evangelist or liker or supporter or advocate or whatever you want to call them – that’s how their love should look, no? Like a freezer stuffed full of living proof that doesn’t just mumble “I like you,” rather screams “HELL YEAH I LIKE YOU! MOVE OVER FROZEN WAFFLES! MAKE WAY ICE CUBES!”
The freezer in that photo isn’t just a fan by name, it’s a fan by action. It’s a fan who wants to bring YOU to a backyard BBQ, an unexpected visit from an old friend, a breakup, a makeup, a Tuesday afternoon for no good reason at all.
So, if you asked ME to define what makes Jeni’s so special in one word, I’d simply respond: passion, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. Jeni’s passion is ice cream, but the passion that really defines them, is the passion others wrote, and continue to write, on their behalf. With each happy customer – a neighbor becomes a fan, and a fan becomes an author of that story beyond Jeni’s doors.
For as long as I’ve lived here, I don’t recall a time I’ve ever seen an advertisement for Jeni’s. I’ve never seen their name scrawled on the side of a bus. They don’t have some guy dressed up as an ice cream cone passing out coupons on the sidewalk to passerbys. What Jeni’s is really famous for comes from the people who love them and pull, root and cheer for their success…one scoop at a time.