Lantern file photo
Best known for her ice cream innovations, Jeni Britton Bauer is rejoining the university as a Wexner Center Foundation Board trustee.
The founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is “a natural fit” for the center, said Karen Simonian, Wexner Center for the Arts spokeswoman.
As a student at OSU, Bauer had the opportunity to interact in the university’s art community and even spend time working in the center’s ticket booth.
Bauer first learned of how flavorful art can be at one of the center’s shows that featured an artist who used scent as expression.
“She had like four giant vases filled with scents, so you would walk up to it and take the lid off and then what was inside was like a scent,” Bauer said. “And I thought, if that’s art then certainly ice cream can be art too.”
Bauer said while she was in college she was working at La Chatelaine, a French bakery and restaurant.
At La Chatelaine she learned the ins and outs of creating desserts. Bauer said in combination with the center’s exhibit, her experiences in the food industry guided her in a different direction. So she left the university and went out on her own to invest her time into her new interest – ice cream.
As a means of showcasing her art, Bauer opened Scream in 1996 in Columbus’ North Market.
“I knew nothing about ice cream making, it was really truly just a place for me to get my feet wet,” she said. “To really have my first big failures I think, which you have to have and that’s kind of how I view Scream. There were a lot of things that (I) did right, but mostly I did everything wrong.”
In the end, the business failed, but Bauer said she was able to learn about food from the experts at the North Market. She said she was not sure where her life would take her at that point.
“We closed Scream, I had another business partner then who didn’t work in the company, didn’t have much interest in it really…we just decided it wasn’t working,” she said. “We closed it down and I thought I was just going to go do something else, you know, be a teacher or something.”
However, even though the business was a flop, Bauer got her name out there in the culinary world.
“People were buying me drinks and sometimes even dinner when I would go out to a restaurant because they wanted to know when I was going to get back into ice cream,” she said.
Bauer said she spent the next two years creating a business plan and trying to figure out how to get money to start another business.
In fall 2002, Bauer opened her first Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at the North Market in downtown Columbus on the day of an OSU football game against Michigan.
“Not a great day to open. It was cold, it was, you know, a big game and all that,” she said. “But it was perfect for us actually.”
Bauer’s ice cream shop has gained many achievements since its Michigan game day debut, including being featured in “Cooking Light,” “Food & Wine” and “Time Magazine,” as well as receiving the James Beard Award, called the “Oscars of the Food World.”
Bauer also published an ice cream cookbook, and Jeni’s has been featured on the Food Network.
There are nine Jeni’s in Ohio, mostly in the Columbus area, and two shops in Tennessee, according to the store’s website.
Pints of Jeni’s ice cream for online orders are priced at $12 to $14 on the store’s website.
Bauer said that as her business grows in success, she makes it a point to give back to the community.
“We want to be good citizens and good members of the community and support communities, so we have our sort of fundamental giving program,” she said.
Bauer said she gives because she wants to support culture in communities so they become better places to live. She explained that in Columbus, one way she supports culture in the community is through the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Bauer often contributes by supplying the center with ice cream for its various events, including the Wex Drive-Ins, Simonian said.
The university announced Bauer’s selection as a trustee for the Wexner Center on Oct. 30, and Simonian said she was pleased with the decision.
“She’s one of our local stars,” Simonian said. “Kind of a member of the creative class so to speak, she’s probably the queen of that in a way.”
The Wexner Center Foundation is a private partner of OSU’s Board of Trustees created to represent the interests of the Wexner Center for the Arts, according to a university press release. OSU does not pay its trustees, Simonian said.
Some students on OSU’s campus said they feel strongly about Bauer and her ice cream shop, too.
“I like going and sitting in the cutesy chairs,” said Colleen Miracle, a second-year in communication. “It’s never melancholy, even in the winter.”
Miracle said she thought that Bauer would bring an interesting perspective to the Board and is a big fan of Bauer’s perspective on ice cream.
“I like Milkiest Chocolate in the World and Lemon Frozen Yogurt,” Miracle said.