Chuck Bell and Mike Doherty didn't know they had Cherry Garcia in common until they met early this year.
Now, the two self-professed Dead Heads are business associates at the new Ben & Jerry's ice cream store, which opened last week in Wildhorse Marketplace. Doherty and his wife, Amy, are co-owners. Bell is the manager.
The No. 1 flavor at the international chain with funky Vermont roots is indisputably Cherry Garcia, with Cookie Dough in a close second and Chunky Monkey in third. Bell and Doherty, each of whom has witnessed more than 50 Grateful Dead rock concerts, naturally share an interest in the ice cream flavor named after the late Jerry Garcia, who fronted the band.
The Steamboat Springs "scoop shop" is the first Ben & Jerry's retail location on Colorado's Western Slope and the first of a half-dozen franchise locations the Dohertys hope to open (Aspen comes next, hopefully in July).
Bell, a veteran of the food-service industry in Steamboat, will manage the local store and hopes to grow into a regional role with the Dohertys' company.
The Dohertys are both banking industry veterans who were seeking a way to return to Amy's home state. She is the president of Scoop Shop Holdings of Colorado. They'll bring financial management skills to the company, and Bell will bring the background in restaurant operations.
He was the food and beverage director and executive chef for the Ptarmigan Inn for 14 years, but he might be better known as the two-time winner of Steamboat's Decadent Desserts competition
"One year, I won with a frozen orange chocolate souffle," he recalled. "That was an amazing, amazing thing to put in your mouth."
Although founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield sold their ice cream company years ago (multinational Dutch company Unilever purchased the company for $326 million in April 2000), the company has retained a good deal of the original Ben and Jerry's individuality and creativity. Bell is thrilled that corporate policy allows him to create his own signature ice cream cakes and other concoctions that will be specific to the Steamboat store.
"Chuck will be the face of Ben & Jerry's in Steamboat Springs," Doherty said.
The individuality at Ben & Jerry's extends to allowing the local shop to adapt the corporate logo. The Steamboat shop already has T-shirts and ball caps showing a skiing waffle cone wearing a cowboy hat with the slopes of Mount Werner in the background. But the interior finish of the shop is strictly by the Ben & Jerry's book.
"This is corporate" design, Doherty confirmed, including a trio of colorful light fixtures, the chairs and tables and a 1950s retro dropped ceiling with a curved leading edge that resembles the lines of a kidney shaped swimming pool.
Of course, the trademark black and white cow mural is on the wall, but again, the slopes of Mount Werner are recognizable in the background.
Speaking of Mount Werner, Doherty acknowledges that selling frozen desserts in cold-weather climates such as Steamboat's isn't the same as selling ice cream in Florida in July.
"It's a challenge, no doubt about it," Doherty said, but he added that the company has found that in sunny winter resorts such as Colorado ski areas, people already are enjoying the great outdoors, and cold weather isn't as great a deterrent to selling ice cream as it might be in other winter markets.
The Steamboat scoop shop also will serve hot drinks. Ben & Jerry's in Steamboat is more than just an ice-cream store. It's one of a few in the franchise group that has been co-branded with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and will sell Green Mountain's "fair trade certified" coffee products. The fair trade logo certifies the coffee growers are given reasonable contracts that assure they can make a living. Sustainable farming techniques that protect rain forest ecosystems also are encouraged, Bell said.
Doherty said the coffee, espresso and latte items provided by Green Mountain will balance out the ice cream shop seasonally and daily -- coffee is more appealing in the morning, and ice cream sells better in the afternoon and evening.
The coffee products also provide Bell with more options for experimentation. Both men attended "Scoop U.," the training facility at Ben & Jerry's headquarters near Burlington, Vt. Bell made an impression with his blends of Triple Caramel Chunk ice cream and a coffee latte.
"It was so velvety thick, it was amazing," he said.
Bell has a bachelor's degree in food science and human nutrition from Colorado State University. While studying with renowned flavor chemist Dr. Joseph Maga at CSU, Bell learned to take a scientific approach to making appealing dishes, including ice cream.
"Cooking is chemistry," he says with a serious look. That approach gives him added appreciation for Ben & Jerry's commitment to excluding anything artificial from its ice cream. There are no artificial flavorings or colorings in the products, Bell said. The company also is unabashed about the high butterfat content in the ice cream, though Cherry Garcia low-fat frozen yogurt is its sixth most popular variety.
Doherty thinks Wildhorse, with a new six-screen cinema on the horizon, is an advantageous location.
"The ideal place for an ice-cream store is in a high-traffic pedestrian center with an element of tourism and restaurants and entertainment nearby," he said.
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