Jeni’s Free Market has the scoop on the art of ice cream
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Jeni Britton Bauer sees ice cream as more than a treat. Ice cream is her art, and she shares it through Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
“At first, I felt eating the ice cream was delicious,” Bauer says. “The first time was a pleasurable experience.
“However, you can use ice cream to tell stories. I was studying art and we were using paint or poetry. Ice cream uses scents. Scents are most of the flavor. You taste the sweet, and you feel the cold. Once I realized that, I was off and running.”
Midwest-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams now has scoop shops around the United States, as well as Jeni’s Free Market at Runway in Playa Vista. Her market stand is her fifth Los Angeles location.
This year, Bauer has dropped new flavors like White House chocolate chip, everything bagel, buttercream birthday cake and a Dolly Parton collaboration, strawberry pretzel pie.
Wedding cake was launched on June 8 and features vanilla cake with lemon, blackberries and buttercream icing.
Parton’s strawberry pretzel pie is just one of many collaborations, none of which are paid.
“We do have literally countless people approaching us about collaborations,” Bauer says. “We like to hand pick the people we partner with. You never know who’s next. They’re always amazing people—amazingly talented, creative people.”
One of those was rapper/artist Tyler, the Creator, the company’s most successful collab. Bauer used her gift as an artist to turn Tyler’s words into a resonant ice cream flavor that he loves. The LA Scoop Shops featured Snowflake, a two-colored study of mint that earned nearly 1 million likes on Instagram, and sold more than 4,000 pints on day one, and 20,000 scoops in the first week. The two also created Pluto Bleu, described as “electric orange with a bolt of blue.”
“Tyler reached out to us,” Bauer says. “When he reached out, we hit it off right away and we had to work together. He’s one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met. He’s magical.”
“Magical” to Bauer’s daughter would be a collaboration with former One Direction singer Harry Styles.
“She’s been bugging me about a collaboration,” she says with a laugh. “If I could choose my dream collaboration, I would probably go into history. I’d have to think about that one, but maybe Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, or Marie Antoinette.”
Just as important as the flavor is Bauer’s mission, which she dubs The Fellowship Model. She literally builds her ice cream from the ground up, with growers, makers, producers, suppliers and customers.
“We call it The Fellowship Model,” she says. “We combine values from the good food world with tools from the 21st century. We believe we get higher-quality ingredients when we have relationships with the people we’re buying from. We buy direct whenever we can.
“Making ice cream this way requires more work and skill than traditional ice creams made with flavorings and colorings, but we think it’s worth it.”
Bauer said her products aren’t “junk food ice cream.” Her desserts are smooth with a buttercream body. She eschews synthetic flavorings, dyes or off-the-shelf mixes, along with stabilizers and emulsifiers.
“Customers get attached to the flavors that we do,” she says. “When you eat the ice cream, the flavor comes through brightly because there are no stabilizers or emulsifiers. I learned how to do that by working at a dairy.
“I was volunteering at the dairy so I could learn. Your passion builds when you fall in love with something. I feel like that, still, to this day.”
Bauer founded Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2001 in her home. The following year, she received a Small Business Administration loan to open a pop-up in a farmers market. Her goal was to start small and build her experience as an entrepreneur.
“I had a lot of ideas when I was young,” she says. “I had a big vision, but no idea how to do any of it. I dropped out of art school and went for it, though. I learned everything I needed to learn by just doing it, whether it was accounting, making ice cream, marketing or branding.”
Ice cream is, obviously, important to Bauer. But she’s hoping her customers understand that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is an art.
“We, as people, make up the company,” Bauer says.
“We love serving people. We’re just a service company. I love our shops and selling ice cream in grocery stores. We speak directly to you through pints and packaging. We tell you a little story about the ice cream. I think that’s the best way to put it.”