Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's, Part 6: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Yes, guys, this is the last post in the epic saga that was my trip to Ben & Jerry's. (And yes, after this we will be back to reviews as normal.) If you missed anything, please check out the links to the previous posts:

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Week Intro
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part 1
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part Deux!
Gigi, Ben & Jerry à Trois
Gigi, Ben, Jerry, and a Trio of Gurus: The Saga IV
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's, Part 5: The Man

After the excitement that the day before had been, what with the factory tour, the Gurus, and eating my body weight in ice cream...not counting the dinner where we were once again stuffed to the gills...and then fed even more ice cream...and getting to hang out with Erin, Angelique, Stephanie and Jackson long after everyone else had the good sense to get some rest.... Yeah, I admit I was starting to get that "Day After Halloween" feeling (and yes, I know it should be day after Christmas, but Halloween is my favorite holiday and that's the one I am always sorry to see end).

We arrived back at the Ben & Jerry's headquarters and were treated to a bagel buffet (I have to wonder if there was any irony there), and we got to hear more about the company's plans to fully convert to Fair Trade ingredients.

We also got a chance to meet the company's new CEO Jostein Solheim (fave flavor: Chunky Monkey -- fresh off the line, of course). Mostly he talked about how committed Unilever is to keeping the Ben & Jerry's brand as true to its core values as possible and how they will continue to forge ahead in the future. We also learned that out of the 400 brands that Unilever owns, Ben & Jerry's is the only one that actually has its own board and CEO.

I will grant you this was a unique meeting in and of itself, and I probably should have been paying a little more attention then I was, but I was distracted...which probably sounds bad, but...

You see, the table that we were sitting around had seats either facing a screen that a presentation was done on, or you could face the doorways with the glass panels looking out into the hallways. I am claustrophobic and I always try to seat myself looking out. So there is Mr. Solheim, graciously sharing his time with us, when I happen to notice that wandering about in the hallway outside of the room is a very familiar face. Luckily for me, I didn't have to squirm in my seat debating on which act would be considered worse -- walking out on the CEO in the middle of his talk, or running out on the CEO in the middle of his talk so I could have just one tiny minute to talk to the man in the hallway. I know it was only a few minutes in real time, but in my ice cream fueled, sleep deprived, impatient child like sense of time it was forever...but then the man in the hallway walked in.

Yes, folks, we got to bask in the surprisingly patchouli-free glow that was Jerry himself! I'm not sure how to describe the moment exactly, other than to say it was almost like Santa Claus rode in on a unicorn to a soundtrack by Barry Manilow (performed live, of course), only slightly more awesome.

Jerry shared with us some of his memories of himself and Ben in the company's early days. His favorite flavor -- which he says changes often -- is currently the Hannah Teter flavor. It also came out that Jerry himself comes to the building to use the computers. Being the dork that I am, I of course had to tell him that after meeting us that I was sure he would be following all of our blogs and our Twitters and our Facebooks... as a matter of fact, Jerry, I am still waiting...

He also allowed us to ask him some questions. One of the first was when he goes into one of the scoop shops, does anyone ever recognize him? Answer is no! But it probably doesn't help that apparently random guys go in all the time claiming to be Ben or Jerry. A lot of people took the time to ask really intelligent questions regarding the company's social missions, etc. And you know, maybe I should have too...but c'mon! You know this is me we're talking about, and I am now sitting less than two feet away from Jerry! No, there would be no questions about being green, no wondering if he could have done one thing differently what would it have, no, no. I looked Jerry, and I told him: "I just wanted to say that when you walked into the room, every fat cell in my body exploded in pure happiness -- thank you!" Jerry had a good laugh, the last of my "journalistic integrity" was almost buried, and right about then the P.R. folks decided it was a really good time to move to Scoop U for a group photo. Call me a dork if you want was worth it!

The relatively short walk from the conference room to Scoop U gave me a chance to catch my breath, as well as confirm with the very cool Dubba from On Second Scoop that this may in fact be the best place on Earth, and that we were both beyond excited to have met Jerry.

After rounding up the bloggers -- at least two of whom were really excited -- we posed around Jerry, and got this picture:

(Photo Courtesy of Lick My Spoon)

Jerry stayed for a few minutes more, but he had things to do and we had planes to catch, and sadly our time together was short.

But if you guys actually thought I was merely going to let this man walk away, you're insane. No, if I didn't let the Gurus off that easy, Jerry stood no chance. Yes, people, I hugged Jerry! (With permission of course.) I would like to thank Jerry for his sense of humor about it, and I am sure as soon as the restraining order is lifted we will be new best friends.

Alas, this also meant the end of our time at Ben & Jerry's. While I seriously considered holing up in the slide, only coming out at night to nibble on the test kitchen leave-em's and to charge my cell phone, it wasn't really a practical plan. And with a heavy heart and about five gained pounds, I did indeed eventually board that plane towards home. (That is a whole other story.)

So, besides five extra pounds, what did I take away with me from this trip?

I think maybe the most important thing -- as cheesy as it is going to sound -- is that I believe part of the reason Ben & Jerry's is so good as a whole, is that it really is made with love. I've said it before, but the people that work there really do seem to have a love and passion for their jobs that you don't see too much of anymore.

I went in having the sense that while the official company line may be "Peace, Love & Ice Cream," that the reality would be some Mr. Burns-like Unilever suit standing in a corner, grinning to his minions that they could fatten people up with Ben & Jerry's and then get people to diet it off with Slim Fast. And while I cannot prove that to be untrue...well, should it in fact be true, then Unilever at least hides it well.

"So, Gigi," you may ask, "does this mean every Ben & Jerry's review from here on out is going to be a big ol' hippie lovefest, just because they spoiled you rotten for three days?" (If that's all it took to get me to behave, my family would have cashed in on that a long time ago.)

The answer is hell no! In fact, if you read the Boston Cream Pie review, you would know the answer to that. Yeah, I admit that having actually met the people who work so hard to get that pint of ice cream from its "birth" in Vermont to my freezer in California, it is a teeny, tiny, bit harder to be snarky when I feel it's called for. But, as those in my real life would tell you, I get over that pretty quickly.

What they did give me was a once in a lifetime chance to see a place I had only been able to imagine. And they gave me a chance to thank one of the men responsible for some of the greatest ice cream out there. For these things, I cannot say thank you enough.

But because my Momma didn't raise no rude kids (the wolves that babysat us took care of that), I would like to take a moment and thank some of the people that made this trip possible:

First, the men themselves -- Ben and Jerry. Thank you for not being able to afford the bagel equipment all those years ago. I should also partially retract one of my prior statements. On one or two occasions in the past, I may have referred to you as "dirty hippies". At least in Jerry's case, I can vouch that he was quite clean, so I am going to just drop that to "hippie," at least in Jerry's case. As for Ben...well, you will just have to meet me, strictly to disprove the "dirty" part and not because I am a huge ice cream nerd and would love to talk about what inspired some of the early flavors. No, clearly that does not sound like me. Be warned, there will be hugging.

Next up the fabulous Ben & Jerry's PR team, Sean, Liz and Aryn: Thank you all for everything you did to put the trip together, supplying us with any information we may have needed, answering about 6,000,000,000 questions, and for getting that nice shuttle bus with the really wide doors after you fed us all that ice cream. I am still lobbying for my flavor to be made, Sean! I'm telling you, it'd be awesome....

Everyone at both the Waterbury factory & the headquarters office: Thank you for letting a group of sugared-up bloggers invade your workspace and covet your nap room. Your patience with us may indeed merit beatification.

My fellow bloggers for making the trip that much more fun. Be sure to check out their posts on our shared trip:

On Second Scoops Field Trip
Bitchin' Kitchen's On Location
Grub Grades Flavor Graveyard Trip

Lick My Spoons Pilgrimage

Lemondrops Ice Cream Confidential
Notcot's Graveyard Trip
Serious Eats also took on the Graveyard

My own bosses: Mr. Ed & Lorelei. Thank you guys for giving me so much time off, on what is amounted to practically no notice in our scheduling world. Bonus points for not laughing out loud when I told you what it was for.

But most of all I want to thank those of you who actually read my little ramblings. This would not have been possible without you, and I can't tell you how much it meant to me.

Thank you all!
Peace, Love & Ice Cream,


aehlow said...

Our pleasure! Keep up the great blogging and honest taste tests.


Gigi said...

Thank you guys again! Give the Guru's, Jerry, Sean and Liz my best.

Lick My Spoon said...

Thanks for the shout out, Gigi! hope all is well and that your blood sugar has finally gotten back to normal ;)

Gigi said...

Your welcome! I was drool at your Ina Garten Salmon post. Have you ever tried her chicken with 40 cloves of garlic? So simple and yet to die for! (and I DO NOT like chicken!)

My blood sugar would be better if I could walk away from the Dolce Delish that I have somehow still not reviewed but managed to eat way to much of!