My first experience in Columbus that I truly remember and think back to was our first time in the North Market, which was in turn our first Jeni’s experience. This was 2003. I can remember to this day that Jaime and I split a duo of salty caramel and lemon yogurt. I remember thinking – because I was still having a bit of culture shock – that when we were in New Orleans, everything was funky, everything was offbeat, in a way that you see more commonly now in Columbus. But at the time, it felt like you had to really seek out the pockets of it. I saw Jeni’s and I thought it was interesting, so there must be people here doing something different than what other people do. It’s just not as prevalent, you have to seek it out. That was the first thing that I latched on to here in Columbus.
We’ve built the Jeni’s business as a community, and going all the way back to 2002 with Jeni’s and the North Market. You could go back to ’96 with Jeni and Scream in the North Market, going back to Jeni making the ice cream herself, serving to everybody on the floor in the market, having interactions and conversations with customers. It’s been the community of people, whether in the Market, the other vendors, or the people in town who decided to come back and tell other people about it and bring their friends. We could never do what we do the way that we’ve done it without the support of people within the community and people buying into it.
Even from an operational standpoint, the reason we have four seasonal collections throughout the year now is because of the ingredients that the vendors at the market had in 2002. So there was something about the community here in Columbus that enabled that. The thing about the Midwest is that we have proximity to an unbelievable amount of fresh produce. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened somewhere where we didn’t have access to such bounty and if those same farmers who are growing the fresh strawberries, if they hadn’t been at the market, maybe it wouldn’t have all come together.
I come to work, but I’ve got two young kids. I’m not out on the ground as much as I used to be. I don’t have the ability to right now. That’s the honest answer. When I was doing work that I didn’t identify with, that didn’t fulfill me in a certain way, I had to find connections elsewhere. That’s why I did that early community engagement. That’s where I got that. Now, I’m at a place where I get that through my work. So my cup gets filled pretty full here, then I add in the family stuff. There’s not room for much else right now. So while I am disconnected from an earlier community which I felt really tied to, right now I’m not at a place where I can be an active and engaged member of it. Not that I don’t identify with it anymore, it’s just not a reality that I can live.
At the same time, I see people out there doing it. Wolf is a great example. Sometimes we’ll joke that Wolf is like a younger me. We’ll see him doing so much stuff around town. Kudos to people who can keep doing that with young children. I haven’t figured out how to do that. We’ve got a group of friends who have kids. So now I have a birthday party to go to every weekend. I guess we’re in the tribe of young parents. Maybe that’s it? My son is in Tae Kwon Do, so I guess I’m in the Tae Kwon Do parents community. I guess the community that I’m experiencing now has to do with being a young parent, to be honest. As uninteresting as that might be, that’s the reality right now.
The most important thing is bringing people together. Something that facilitates conversation. It’s so easy to have impressions or mis-impressions about people. Particularly online. Until you get face-to-face and have actual conversation, and share ideas and feelings and a point of view and actually get to know somebody. Just being real and connecting on a human level with other people. The very act of intentionally doing that is what then spawns that sense of collaboration. Being open and ready to share an experience with somebody. If time permits it. Being open to whatever happens to come your way. I don’t know if you’re a Charlie Rose fan, but there’s a great Bill Murray interview with him, it’s like an hour long. His whole thing is about being open to life as it happens. If you’re not walking around with your eyes open, the things you’ll walk by and opportunities that you’ll miss that may never happen again. It’s having an open mind, being vulnerable and sharing a piece of yourself.