BABE #273: JENI BRITTON BAUER - Founder, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
As the Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Jeni is devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together. Since 2002, she’s grown her Columbus, Ohio-based business to 36 locations across 10 cities, stocked grocery store shelves across the U.S and maintained quality social and environmental performance through accountability, sustainability and transparency. Jeni has always lived life on her own terms and believes in taking chances, staying true to herself and embracing her uniqueness. We’re thrilled to share Jeni’s story today, and excited to host Thursday’s Jacksonville stop on the Jeni's Makes Summer Better tour. Tickets are selling fast — grab yours today!
Hometown: Peoria, Illinois
Current city: Columbus, Ohio
Alma mater: Dropped out of The Ohio State University
Very first job: Selling hand-woven baskets when I was 7 years old
Hustle: Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Babe you admire and why?
Bobbi Brown taught me that you can make a living doing whatever the heck you want.
How do you spend your ‘free’ time?
If I have free time I like to daydream. If I can’t get into a good daydream, I’ll read just enough to get my mind going — and then I’ll be off.
Favorite fictional female character? Why?
JC Wiatt (Baby Boom) taught me that you can drop out of the system and still be more than OK.
Current power anthem?
“That’s The Way It Is" - Céline Dion
What would you eat for your very last meal?
My grandmother's potato salad
What’s something you want to learn or master?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I’m an introvert.
Tell us about your hustle, providing an overview of your job and roles.
Today, I do many different things and work with every leader in our company, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. I do much more public speaking and communicating our vision both inside our company and out. I design shops, help with art and design, and do lots of writing. I spend time in the test kitchen, and, of course, I eat a lot of ice cream! I am still creating every ice cream we put out. But this leadership role has taken decades. Most of my life I made less than minimum wage and worked 75-90 hour weeks hauling produce into our kitchen, setting up a new table or shelving unit daily, scooping ice cream in a shop, or driving our mobile scooping freezer to an event in the evenings — only to have to clean it all out at the end of the night back at our commissary kitchen. I spent a lot of time unclogging toilets, calling in for repair when a freezer would die (daily), and all the work it takes to keep going when you have big dreams but no money. I lived in a tiny apartment and drove a very old car that never worked, and took the bus when I didn’t have a car. I was, and still am, fueled by my vision more than anything else — including money.
What does your typical workday look like? Which various ‘hats’ do you wear throughout the day?
I think, create, write, communicate, test, ask a lot of questions, train and check in. I am a cocker spaniel pit bull mix — optimistic, cheerful and loving, and also ready to fight to the death for my standards, my community and my ideas.
Have you always had a passion for all-things culinary? Where do you think this stems from, and what drew you to ice cream in particular?
Yes, from my grandmothers — one of whom grew 12 gardens each year to cook from. I was drawn to ice cream through scent. I love that most of flavor is scent, and ice cream is a perfect canvas for that.
Tell us about the fellowship model Jeni’s employs. How do you decide which companies to work with, and what’s your process for fostering and maintaining the relationships vital to the model?
First and foremost, the fellowship model is about each of us bringing our talent, hustle and guts into the circle where, together, we become something greater than the sum of its parts. You can read more about it — and how we source — here. It involves everyone who has a role at Jeni’s, including our customers. It is also a Lord of the Rings reference. ;)
How would you describe your leadership style? What characteristics do you look for in potential staff members, and what kinds of qualities do you think service industry professionals should attain?
For most of my life I would call my leadership style “I’ll be over here”. I am not a joiner. I have never felt comfortable in groups that seek to define me (and they all do— even diplomas and degrees and institutions like marriage). I am far more comfortable out on my own. So in school, you’d find me alone working on stuff. Sometimes it would look fun, so others would join up. That’s how I started Jeni’s, too. Happy to have you here, but this community is defined by my rules — which are about being true to yourself, being unique, being awesome and taking chances. I look for the opposite for my team. I admire people who can organize, inspire and keep the peace. It’s important, and at this stage, I’m trying to become more like that!
Where do you get inspiration for recipe development? How does Jeni’s stay on top of industry trends?
Pop culture, history and music. Everywhere! Honestly, trends are boring. Mainstream can really only hold a few tried and true things. The rest never make it. So we follow some mainstream trends because we all love them, and then we play around and follow our own curiosity for the rest.
How have your past professional and academic experiences and lessons prepared you for the work you do today? How have they not prepared you?
They prepared me to be a thinker and to connect to people, but nothing I studied in school directly helped in any way. I wish we would tear the whole industrial education system down and rebuild it.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience? What can we do to create more equal, uplifting (and well-paying!) spaces for women in your industry?
We can support women-owned, founded and led companies exclusively. We can encourage girls to start businesses. The only way we will ever get to equality is to remake the system. That means we have to build from the ground up, not the top down, as many are trying to do.
Career and/or life advice for other babes (both inside and outside of you industry?)
Own it. Take no prisoners.
Connect with Jeni:
This interview has been condensed and edited.
All photos property of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Join us at the Jeni’s Makes Summer Better tour:
We're SO excited to be partnering up with Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams as they stop in JAX for their Jeni's Makes Summer Better truck tour THIS Thursday, May 16th at Six Hundred King. From 7:00 - 8:30PM, VIP ticket holders will enjoy our first ever LIVE BWH interview and audience Q+A with Jeni herself! From 6:30 - 9:30, anyone and everyone can enjoy the official Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Street Treats truck, which will be parked outside at Six Hundred King offering free samples plus scoops + pints for sale for the general public.
Celebrate the Summer with us and meet + greet with the babe who started it all! Grab your tickets here.