Today is Free Cone Day, a made-up holiday that's celebrated throughout the land. And why not? It's not every day a company celebrates by giving something away. But then again, Ben & Jerry's is no ordinary company. The ice-cream manufacturer is politically incorrect, satirical, and socially conscious. Its business model is a corporate nightmare. But, with it all, it has garnered a loyal fan base that includes rock stars who clamor to have an ice cream named after them (rumor has it the company turned down the Rolling Stones).
In 1978, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took their life savings of $8,000 and opened an ice-cream shop in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. They celebrated their one-year anniversary by giving away free ice cream. Thus, the very first Free Cone Day was born.
Now, more than 30 years later, Ben & Jerry's is no longer a small Vermont shop. It's a division of Unilever, with multiple factories and "scoop shops" around the world. But travel to Burlington and you'll soon see that the simple joy of making ice cream remains. The offices and main factory are covered in cow murals. Meeting rooms are named for ice-cream flavors, and a fully operational ice-cream parlor sells treats to employees for a dollar.
Though no longer owners, Ben & Jerry are still employees of the
company, though Jerry Greenfield says the duo "do nothing and have no
In a recent chat, Greenfield told Short Order: "Our
purpose is to have a positive impact on society. We're people based
where a lot of companies are motive based." He said that he and his
partner, Ben, were basically hippies when they started making ice cream.
"We weren't dreaming big. We just wanted to have an ice cream shop on
the corner that was affordable to people. We named the company Ben &
Jerry's because we wanted people to know there were two guys behind
it...The more caring the company has been, the
more successful we've been."
Even though Ben & Jerry's is a
division of a much larger corporation, in many ways it remains independent. The company retained the original board of directors, who
are still in charge of ice cream quality and purchasing. Its caring dairy program works with local dairy farms to ensure animals,
people, and the environment are all being treated fairly and they work
closely to source as many ingredients from fair trade participants and
small, socially responsible vendors.
And there's the sense of
humor. Walk up a hill behind the main factory and you'll come across a
graveyard filled with tombstones representing flavors that were
"killed off" for one reason or another.
Ben & Jerry's free cone day today at the scoop shop in Coral
Gables. Just walk in from noon to 8 p.m. and you'll get a free single
scoop cone in any flavor you like.
In addition, the Ben &
Jerry's Truck is in Miami for the entire month of April. They'll also be out
giving away free cones (though they haven't chosen a location for today yet). Follow them
on Twitter at @BenJerrysTruck
and use hashtag #OMGFreeBenJerrys if you want them to come to you.
truck was at New Times office at the Wynwood Building
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yesterday, causing a stampede as hungry writers clamored for free Greek
frozen yogurt. Your company could be next!