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Meet Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Los Feliz and Venice Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeni Britton Bauer.

Jeni, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I made my first ice cream in 1996 while I was an art and art history student obsessed with scents. On a whim, I added cayenne essential oil I added to store-bought milk chocolate ice cream. It was spicy and sweet. At that moment, the sky opened up and I could see my whole life in front of me. I realized the potential of ice cream as a carrier of scent—and I thought ice creams could be better and more interesting. Six months later I started my first ice cream business, and I haven’t done anything but study ice cream since.

The menu at my first shop inside the North Market in Columbus, Ohio, was full of interesting flavors that changed daily. But the model didn’t work. So I closed the shop and set to work on a new plan—one that focused on quality and consistency. We offered signature flavors customers loved alongside seasonal creations, and it took off. That was 2002, and we have been growing ever since.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of my favorite quotes is: “Those aren’t the bumps in the road, they are they road.” I don’t know who said it. In so many ways the life of an entrepreneur is a life of fighting with everything you’ve got just to gain an inch each day. There is nothing about this life that isn’t a struggle. It’s not for everybody. It’s for extreme optimists and the kinds of people who don’t worry too much about setbacks—we live in the opportunity of tomorrow. And that is the greatest adventure that a human being can have. I’m not here to follow someone else’s path. I’m here to blaze my own. Easy is not what I signed up for, and it’s not what I’m good at either.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I have been making ice cream and solving ice cream challenges for half my life—more than two decades. Which probably makes me the biggest ice cream nerd on the planet. I dropped out of art school to go make ice cream when I discovered that cream is the perfect carrier of scent—I had found my calling. Today, after 21.5 years in the business, I am more scientist than artist, yet art and emotion still play very important roles for us—from flavor development to all of our design work, photography, and store designs, which we do on my team. It’s all related. Because I did not come from the food science world or the business world, we do things very differently. I didn’t follow standard procedures like using a prefab ice cream base or loading our ice creams with stabilizers. As a result, no other ice cream company makes ice cream quite the way we do. We are making 21st century ice creams and most of the world is still using 20th century formulations – things are different now, from freezer technology, process, to logistics — we can do new things now that weren’t possible when I was a kid in the 1980’s and before. We also don’t do traditional marketing things, we have built our company slowly, as a community that includes our growers, makers, and producers as well as our teams and our customers.

Our ice creams are made with ingredients that are often grown, sourced, or imported just for us. In order to make these ingredients into ice creams with great body and texture, you have to know the things that only we know about ice cream science, logistics of moving berries with a 24-hour shelf life, or planning and allocation so that we know how much to buy, etc. It’s really complex. It can take the work of hundreds of people to bring one ice cream to life. We are a difficult model to try to replicate—and people try. But we only make it look easy.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
My James Beard Award. It’s actually the only way for an ice cream maker to win for ice cream—to do an ice cream book. Being nominated in the dessert category put us right up against some really great competition, so winning was an even more incredible moment.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Shot of Jeni + Team – Photographer: Tamrin Ingram
Cookbooks: Nick Fancher
Pink Shot: Tom Hoying
Bike shot: Darcy Hemley
Cut Pints: Tamrin Ingram
Cones: Tamrin Ingram

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