Ben Cohen born March 18, 1951 in Brooklyn, NY and Jerry Greenfield born March 14, 1951 also in Brooklyn, NY are the founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Ben and Jerry both grew up in Merrick on Long Island and first met in high school in 1963. The two became lifelong friends and would eventually become business partners.
After high school, Ben went on to Colgate University while Jerry attended Oberlin College, under a pre-med. curriculum before graduating in 1973. Jerry applied unsuccessfully for medical-school in 1973 and 1974; however, he was unsuccessful in being accepted.
In 1973, they shared an apartment on East 10th Street and while Jerry worked as a lab technician, Ben held various jobs, finally settling in as a teacher at the Highland Community School. In 1974, Jerry decided to move to North Carolina with his future wife, Elizabeth Skarie. In North Carolina, he continued work as a lab technician.
In 1976, Jerry moved back to New York, and again the pair shared an apartment in Saratoga Springs, New York. The two collaborated on an idea to open a business together. Initially, they considered opening a bagel shop, however they soon found the cost of the equipment would be prohibitive. It was then they turned their attention to Ice Cream.
They enrolled in a correspondence course on how to make ice cream, and began looking for a suitable location to open their dream business. After doing some initial research, through almanacs, to find warm weather college towns in which to locate their business, they soon found that practically every college town had an ice cream parlor. One place that stood out was Burlington Vermont, home of the University of Vermont.
They went to Burlington and found an old gas station that was available for rent. Pulling their savings of nearly $8,000, they began to pursue a loan for the initial start-up costs. Soon, Ben & Jerry found that they could not get much in the way of financing as many banks found the location unsuitable and the business less than desirable as an investment.
Finally they were able to secure a $4000 loan, and added with their savings, they leased the gas station, bought the equipment, and began to remodel their new shop. By the summer of 1978, they were ready for business.
In the early summer of 1978, they opened their shop, calling it Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
The shop became an instant success; their marketing of a variety of wild flavors and large portions brought crowds of customers to sample their unique new products.
Although, the winters proved a challenge the first two years, they sought out a way to package their product and offer it to local restaurants and grocery stores. In 1980, they relocated the business to a larger location and began packaging their ice cream in pints, to market their product in retail grocery stores.
Jerry temporarily left the business in the 1980s to support his future wife, Elizabeth, in Arizona as she pursued her doctorate in psychology. In 1985, they returned to Vermont, and Jerry assumed the position of Director of Mobile Promotions.
The company grew to open almost 200 franchised shops nationally and reports earnings of more than $230 million annually. In April 2000, Unilever, a multinational food distributor bought Ben & Jerry’s. Ben remains a member on the advisory board of the company. However, neither he nor Jerry is actively involved with the company.
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