16 LONGISLANDPRESS.COM • OCTOBER 2018
THE BIG SCOOP
By WARREN STRUGATCH
Merrick, N.Y. Fall 1963. As their
classmates raced ahead on the school
track, two seventh graders lagged
Coach Phelps warned: “If you finish
under seven minutes, boys, you’re
running it again.”
“Gee, coach,” Bennett Cohen shouted
back. “If we can’t do it under seven
the first time, we sure aren’t doing it
under seven the second time.”
Jerry Greenfield — the other
slow-footed runner — was awestruck.
“I realized Ben was someone I wanted
to get to know,” he recalls.
The feeling was mutual. That day
at Merrick Avenue Middle School,
two boys formed a friendship that’s
still going strong half a century later.
From that friendship between outsiders
sprung Ben & Jerry’s, not only
one of America’s favorite ice cream
brands, but a pioneering force in the
annals of socially conscious business
The friendship reflected the boys’
shared experiences dealing with
the usual rites of 1960s adolescence:
challenging authority, sticking up
for friends in trouble, making new
friends and trying out new roles.
In junior high and again at Sanford
H. Calhoun High School, Jerry was
known for standing up to bullies;
getting top grades; and was, close
friends say, a hoot to hang out with.
Bennett — later Ben — was known
for his cello playing, his enthusiastic
performances with a jug band, and
his success as yearbook editor.
For a couple of summers Ben drove
a Pied Piper Ice Cream truck, sometimes
helped by Jerry, friends recall.
The experience selling ice cream
would come to define their lives.
They split up after graduating in
June 1969. Jerry pursued pre-med
studies, Ben stumbled through several
colleges before dropping out.
Four years later they reunited in
Manhattan, dividing the rent on Ben’s
cramped East Village apartment. Ben
had tried throwing pottery, teaching
at an alternative school, working as a
short-order cook, and driving a cab.
Jerry had been rejected twice from
medical school and was at loose ends.
Jerry recalls with a smile: “Basically,
we’d failed at everything we tried.”
With few appealing options, the
roomies decided to try their hand in
the food industry. The choice: bagels
or ice cream? Jerry discovered Penn
State’s $5 mail-order course in ice
cream making; they split the fee.
Thus was born Ben & Jerry’s homemade
Seeking a rural college town that
had no ice cream parlor — and therefore
no competition — the buddies
settled in Burlington, Vt., home of the
University of Vermont. Acquiring a
vacant gas station, they converted it
into the first Ben & Jerry’s.
Summers were great. In winter
temperatures dropped to minus 20.
Customers stayed home. To keep cash
flowing, Ben sold local grocery-store
owners on carrying the brand. He
soon spread distribution across the
The partners played the roles of
quirky, good-natured rebels always
ready to challenge establishment
rules. Their local-sourcing policy
bolstered Vermont’s dairy industry.
They positioned themselves as environmental
protectors, opposing such
BenBen & Jerry’s Berry Berry Extraordinary® Sorbet on a chocolate
almond cone (Photo by By Kate33/Shutterstock)
Jerry and Ben with Jeff
Durstewitz, their classmate from
Calhoun, when Jeff opened the
first Ben & Jerry’s shop in New
York (Saratoga Springs) in 1983.
(Photo courtesy Jeff Durstewitz)
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shared the secrets of their success during a recent visit to Adelphi
University (Photo by Jennifer Uihlein)