Careers

Repeated Failure Plus $5 Correspondence Course Equals Recipe for Fantastic Ice Cream


Things were not going well for Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen. The lifelong friends had plans for their lives, but those plans were crumbling. Jerry had planned on being a physician, but he couldn’t get into medical school. Ben wanted to be a potter, but sales were insufficient to make ends meet. The two friends roomed together in an effort to reduce expenses, but they quickly realized they’d have to figure out some way to earn a living.

The two men were not the first prospective entrepreneurs to be driven to change the world because of failure (just ask Johannes Gutenberg about his missteps that led to the printing press). The only question for them was where they would focus their efforts.

One interest the two friends shared was food, and they had talked many times about opening a restaurant together. That sort of venture required money — a commodity neither of them had.

They looked around to see what was in demand, and two things stood out to them: bagels and ice cream. A visit to a vendor of used restaurant equipment showed them it would take about $40,000 for them to get into the bagel business.

The buddies immediately concluded that the ice cream business had to be cheaper. They assessed their financial condition and concluded they could spare $5 for a correspondence course from Penn State about ice cream technology. Soon they were trying their hands at making ice cream in their modest kitchen.

Once they were confident in their ice cream making abilities, it was time to see how the public would respond. They pooled their savings — about $8,000 — and borrowed another $4,000, and renovated a gas station in Burlington, Vermont. It was there that the two friends opened their first ice cream scoop shop. The name of the business? What else could it be other than Ben & Jerry’s?

That was in 1978. Today Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is a brand that sells nearly $500 million of ice cream each year in the United States, alone. With such catchy names as Cherry Garcia, The Tonight Dough, and Chunky Monkey, the company offers more than forty different flavors at any given time.

Of course, not all of the company’s offerings were met with resounding success. Ben & Jerry’s readily admits to some spectacular flavor failures, such as Oh, Pear, Fred and Ginger, and Aloha Macadamia. Even these failures, we suspect, may be more appealing to most readers than some of these unusual ice cream flavors from around the world.

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