Reuben Mattus (1912-1994) was born in Poland during World War I, which took his father’s life. He and his mother moved to New York when he was still a child. To make a living, the two worked at an ice cream parlour run by Mattus’ uncle, where ten-year old Reuben would squeeze lemons. By the time he finished high school, the family business was making chocolate ice cream bars and ice cream sandwiches, and sold them from a horse-drawn carriage. They opened up an ice cream factory in Brooklyn, where a young Rose Vesel (1916-2006) was hired to be a bookkeeper. Rose also immigrated with her Polish-Jewish family to New York as a five-year old. She first met Reuben on the streets of Brooklyn, and the two finally married in 1936. Two decades later, the couple decided to open up a new ice cream company. This ice cream would be richer and thicker, made with natural ingredients and butterfat as opposed to the artificial ingredients commonly used by other ice cream makers at the time. Since foreign-sounding names typically market better, Reuben came up with the Danish-sounding “Häagen-Dazs”, and put a map of Denmark on the logo. He did this as a tribute to Denmark, a country which strove to protect its Jews during the Holocaust. (The name “Häagen-Dazs” doesn’t actually mean anything in Danish!) While Reuben developed the recipes, Rose would sell the ice cream – initially by giving out free samples at supermarkets and universities, then catering to upscale restaurants. By 1973, Häagen-Dazs was the only ice cream being sold across the US, and opened its first official store just three years later. The Mattus’ sold the company for $70 million in 1983, but stayed on as consultants. Today, Häagen-Dazs is among the best-known ice cream brands in the world, and continues to operate ice cream shops all over the globe. (It still uses natural flavours and avoids using emulsifiers and artificial stabilizers like guar gum and carrageenan.) Reuben and Rose Mattus have been called the “Emperors of Ice Cream”, much like their fellow Jewish compatriots Baskin & Robbins and Ben & Jerry. Aside from ice cream, the Mattus’ were noted philanthropists, and strong supporters of Israel. They founded a school in Herzliya which still bears their name, and funded the construction of multiple settlements. They also financially supported the controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), as well as the Likud party. Rose Mattus sat on the board of the Zionist Organizations of America, and was reportedly a good friend of both Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2004, she published a book detailing the incredible story of Häagen-Dazs.
Words of the Week
It is better to have an Israel that everyone hates, than an Auschwitz that everyone loves.
– Rabbi Meir Kahane
Bennett Cohen (b. 1951) and Jerry Greenfield (b. 1950) were both born in Brooklyn, and met each other in a junior high gym class – the only two who couldn’t run a mile in under 7 minutes. The bond grew beyond their school years and the two rented an apartment together in their 20s. Greenfield worked as a lab tech while trying multiple times (unsuccessfully) to get into med school. Meanwhile, Cohen jumped through many odd jobs – McDonald’s cashier, janitor, taxi driver, delivery man, crafts teacher. In 1977, the two friends decided to realize an old dream to start their own business. They initially wanted a bagel shop, but finding it too expensive, decided on an ice cream parlour. Cohen had previously learned to make his own ice cream at home, and Greenfield had worked as an ice cream scooper in his teenage years. The two took a $5 ice-cream making course, then scouted a location for their business, looking for a warm place with many college students. They found that all the warm college towns already had popular ice cream shops – except Burlington, Vermont. There they leased an old gas station, and with $8000 in combined savings, along with a $4000 loan, opened the first Ben & Jerry’s. Due to Cohen’s anosmia (lack of smell and taste), they loaded their ice cream with chunks and pieces to give them unique textures – an instant hit. At the same time, they focused on running their business in a fun and socially responsible way. By 1980, Ben & Jerry’s moved to a larger facility, distributing their ice cream in pint-sized containers. The following year, the first franchise opened. Today, there are over 200 Ben & Jerry’s shops in over two dozen countries around the world. The company has built a reputation for philanthropy and social activism, speaking out against GMOs and bovine growth hormones, funding a handful of important causes with the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, and continuing a policy of paying their employees at least double the minimum wage. Though Ben & Jerry’s has been bought out by Unilever, Cohen and Greenfield remain active in the company, and continue to run their own philanthropic ventures (including launching a campaign to support Citizens United, which works to reduce the influence of corporations in political matters). They have been described as “two real guys [who] built a business with a social conscience and a sense of humor.”
Words of the Week
Those who cut down healthy trees see no blessing in their work. – Talmud, Pesachim 50b