Ice Cream’s Jewish Innovators
Jews have pioneered the premium ice cream craze for 40 years, from Häagen-Dazs to Ben & Jerry’s and beyond
But Herrell didn’t stay out of the business for long: He opened Herrell’s ice cream parlor in Northampton, Mass., in 1980—that’s where I caught up with him, chatting in one of his store’s wooden booths while a scooper behind the counter mixed Heath Bar pieces into malted vanilla ice cream for me.
I asked Herrell how he felt now that his idea for “mix-ins” had spread throughout the country, with little financial benefit to him. “Good,” he told me. “I feel it is very rewarding that people love so much what I have done. I can barely handle this small business with bookkeeping, personnel, and a landlord. Fortunately, it is for me balanced off by seeing and talking to happy customers, seeing people enjoying their sundaes and shakes.”
Herrell also influenced another important Jewish ice cream company: One day in the mid-’70s, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield came to watch Herrell chop up Heath Bars and Oreos and mix them into ice cream. “Steve pioneered the rejuvenation of homemade ice cream and mix-ins,” said Greenfield.
Inspired by what they saw, Cohen and Greenfield opened their first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor in 1978 in Burlington, Vt., in a converted gas station. “At first we incorporated mix-ins; then we realized that we weren’t very good at it,” said Greenfield. “We muddled through for a while, and then we made flavored mix-ins like Oreo mint and vanilla Heath Bar crunch.”
Brown, the food writer, sees Herrell and Cohen and Greenfield as part of a larger trend: “A lot of ice cream businesses were started by baby boomers,” she said, “back when the baby boomers were young hippies and a lot of their parents helped them get the businesses going.”
Chozen, the latest in the line of Jewish ice cream companies, is also a family affair, only this time the mom stayed involved. “My two daughters were sitting and eating frozen rugelach one night, and one of them said, ‘Wouldn’t that taste good in ice cream?’ ” said Ronne Fisher, co-founder and chief “flavor officer” of Chozen. After a weeklong course at ice cream university to learn the basics, she bought a machine and started making ice cream with rugelach, matzo, halva, babka—all kosher and dairy. “These delicious flavors are typically Jewish and Eastern European,” she said, noting that flavors on the horizon include blueberry blintz and matzo kugel.
The Fishers don’t see themselves as a mass-market producer, though. “I think we are a niche business,” Ronne Fisher continued. “We have no aspiration to be Häagen-Dazs. It’s just the two of us. We love it. We are small. Our hope is to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
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