2015 Leadership award winner for Vision

Jeni Britton Bauer

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

In 1995, Jeni Britton Bauer went from blending perfumes as an Ohio State University art student to blending groundbreaking ice cream. Today, the award-winning company owns 20 scoop shops and sells premium pints of distinctive ice cream around the country.


Blending perfumes, in fact, inspired Bauer’s experimentation in desserts, when she added pure cayenne essential oil to chocolate ice cream. “It was this freezing cold sweetness on fire, and I thought of it as an edible perfume,” Bauer recalls. “I passed it around to my friends and they freaked out. I realized the potential was huge.”

In the mid-1990s, the ice cream industry followed the Ben & Jerry’s model, with familiar mix-ins like cookies, candy, and chocolate chunks. Restaurant chefs were showcasing inventive flavors and high-quality ingredients on dessert menus, and Bauer wanted to bring quality and creativity to a scoop shop.

By 1996, Bauer was running Scream Ice Cream in Columbus’ North Market, using ingredients from local suppliers. “I’d come from the art world so whatever I was inspired by in the market that day, were the flavors we had,” she says. “I was an ice cream artiste.”

The business struggled, though, and closed in 2000. Six months passed before Bauer realized where she’d gone wrong. “I was at a coffee shop waiting in line for my favorite scone, and when I got to the front I was so mad they were out of it,” she explains. “When I walked out, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized you have to build a trust relationship with your customers. I only made salty caramel when I felt like it. I didn’t understand how we had to have consistent flavors.” In 2002, she reopened as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.


Bauer has taken the business aspect seriously ever since, though her creative background is clearly still in play with flavors like riesling poached pear sorbet and sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream. Her salty caramel ice cream, which helped put Jeni’s on the map, is always available.

“During almost 20 years of pioneering work, Jeni has effectively created a new ice cream category while inspiring retailers and producers alike to follow suit in being unrelenting on quality and ingredient sources,” wrote Kelly Holmes of The Hills Market in Columbus when nominating Bauer for this award. “Every day, Jeni makes decisions about partnerships and ingredients based on what will sustain the quality of her ice cream as well as the lives of her employees and people who provide the highest-quality ingredients she can find.”

Bauer looks at her business, a certified B Corp, as a community of people, from her 500 employees to the farmers, producers, distillers, and brewers who supply her ingredients. She buys only fair trade vanilla and conducts direct trade when possible, and has garnered a slew of awards.

The Future

“In a couple of years I will have been making ice cream for half of my life,” says Bauer, 41. “It’s fused to my DNA at this point.” The business is growing, recently moving into new headquarters and continuing to add more scoop shops. “We make better ice cream now than we ever have, and we’ll make better ice cream tomorrow than we do now.”