Tag Archives: Unilever

Jews of the Week: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

Ben & Jerry’s

Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen

Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen

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