2011: The first Jeni's scoop shop outside of Ohio offers a different view of Columbus.
Back in 2005, Food & Wine magazine named a Columbus “ice cream artist” to its Tastemaker Awards list, which recognized people under 35 who were already changing the way we eat. Chances are, unless you lived in Central Ohio, you hadn't yet tried Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, nor could you pick its founder, Jeni Britton Bauer, out of a lineup.
Fast forward to this October, when chef Samin Nosrat, the author of the award-winning cookbook “Salt Fat Acid Heat” and star of its corresponding Netflix series, visited Upper Arlington for an author series hosted by the UA Public Library. Nosrat was a big get for Central Ohio—an emerging culinary icon. During the visit, Britton Bauer interviewed her. And as the two women chatted on stage in front of a sold-out auditorium at UA High School (where Britton Bauer is an alum), it wasn't unreasonable to wonder: Wait, which one of these impressive women is the headliner?
Between 2005 and Britton Bauer's October appearance with Nosrat, a few things happened. Jeni's started gaining a lot more media attention for its ingredient-driven, creative approach to ice cream. The company started opening more scoop shops in Ohio, began shipping all over the U.S. and, in 2009, hired John Lowe as CEO with an eye toward expansion.Read the rest of Columbus Monthly's Defining Decade series.
In 2011, Britton Bauer's first cookbook, “Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home,” was published, allowing Jeni's fans to help spread her artisanal ice cream gospel from their own kitchens. The book became aNew York Times bestseller and took home a 2012 James Beard Award, the highest honor in the U.S. for culinary writing.
And in June 2011, nine years after its first shop opened, Jeni's opened its first scoop shop outside Ohio, in an up-and-coming neighborhood that seemed to mirror the rise of Jeni's: East Nashville. (The long line had the Jeni's team scooping from 7 p.m. to midnight.) As the decade ends, Jeni's is now up to 39 shops in eight states and Washington, D.C. Two more will open by the end of the year in the D.C. region, and three Texas shops are in the works. Notably, the scoop shop openings themselves, from Venice Beach to Charlotte, have become big events, with the promise of free ice cream and Britton Bauer holding court.
But in 2015, it all almost came crashing down after back-to-back listeria scares threatened to doom the business. No customers got sick, but the company took bold steps, recalling all of its products, shuttering its shops and destroying 535,000 pounds (or 265 tons) of ice cream, costing the company more than $2.5 million. Its mettle tested, Jeni's became a symbol for how to survive a major crisis.
Jeni's isn't the biggest food business to come out of Columbus, but it's one of the most impactful. Sure, the company hasn't scaled as quickly as another Columbus-based business with a woman's name: Wendy's. From 1969 to 1979, Dave Thomas' fast-food empire opened an eye-popping 1,500 eateries in the U.S. and Mexico. But what Jeni's has done is help raise awareness of this Midwestern city as a place you'd like to have a cone with—and perhaps even visit. Maybe most importantly, Britton Bauer has become a role model and a force—one who encourages other women entrepreneurs to dream big.
In many ways, she's an ideal ambassador for the new Columbus—hip, smart, charming, resilient and supportive.***
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