How to Survive a Crisis, by the Founder of Jeni’s Ice Creams

Kerry Diamond
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Food

All photos: Jeni’s Ice Cream

How would you handle a crisis? When you’re an entrepreneur, you never want to think about this. But Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder of the popular indie ice cream brand that bears her name, had to switch into survival mode this spring when her company’s very existence was threatened.

This April, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams issued a voluntary recall and shut all of its scoop shops when the Nebraska Department of Agriculture found evidence of listeria in a randomly collected sample of its product. It might have seemed drastic to recall more than 500,000 pounds of ice cream given that no one had fallen ill, but that same month, the Centers for Disease Control reported that three deaths in Kansas were linked to listeria in Blue Bell ice cream. Britton Bauer and her chief executive officer John Lowe weren’t taking any chances.

Subsequent FDA inspections found various safety gaps that needed to be addressed before production could restart. The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, brought in food safety experts to lead a revamp of Jeni’s facilities and manufacturing process. Emergency funding was secured and new protocols put into place. The scoop shops re-opened at the end of May, were shut down after another listeria discovery, then re-opened in mid-June once a partner production facility was secured. The wholesale operation is expected to resume before summer’s end.

Jeni stands with the Nashville shop crew during the store’s opening.

When Britton Bauer launched Jeni’s back in 2002, she imagined a company that was different in every way. She practiced responsible sourcing and worked with small local farms; she wanted a premium product that didn’t rely on emulsifiers and stabilizers like other ice creams on the market. The company was structured so that it could secure certified B Corporation status, meaning it meets certain social, employment, and environmental standards, as set forth by the nonprofit B Lab.

Having a set of core values was key for Britton Bauer during the trials of the past few months. And true to her optimistic nature — pessimists tend not to get into the ice cream business — she’s looking at the silver lining of the experience. Here, she shares with Yahoo Food the 10 key lessons that kept her, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, from a total meltdown:

1. Set your own standards.

This is important no matter the industry you’re in, but paramount when it comes to food safety. Make sure you know all of the rules and regulations — and then go far beyond what’s required.

2. Community is everything.

Your relationships with people matter the most. If you have and maintain good relationships, people and businesses will help when you need them.

3. Put one foot in front of the other.

A crisis overwhelms your senses and abilities, often in uncontrollable ways. Focus on solving one problem at time; it’s the only way through.

Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Ice Cream.

4. Keep perspective.

You may be inside the eye of your own personal hurricane, but the world keeps turning — and bigger things will continue to happen that put things in perspective.

5. Think INSIDE the box.

People always say creativity is about thinking outside of the box. It’s not. Creative thinking is about identifying and understanding a problem, and then attacking it given the finite resources and opportunities of the given moment. Know your constraints and operate within them.

6. Be your own media company.

If you have something important to say to the world, say it, when and how you want, on your own terms. Be open and transparent; be fast. Don’t rely on others to do it for you.

7. Learn to love change.

Change happens, sometimes on a grand scale like what we’ve just seen. If you’re ready for it, then you don’t get stuck on what could have been but instead on what can be. Be open to what’s possible, not just what is.

8. What doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.

Or, as Joan Rivers said, “It doesn’t get easier, you get better.” Clichés like this exist because they’re true.

9. You don’t trade tough times.

You learn a lot about yourself and others during times of immense pressure. Great teams come together. It can be a galvanizing moment. The experience makes the pain worth it.

10. Music is the best analgesic.

The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. Enough said.

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