The Truth Behind Ben & Jerry's Friendship

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream company, go way back. Together, they've created an arsenal of creative flavors, most of them over-the-top — that is, at least when it comes to deliciousness. Check out the flavors on their website. Craving something fruity? There's Cherry Garcia. Looking for something buttery and nutty? Indulge in a cone of Butter Pecan. Searching for an overload of chocolate? Grab a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk made from a chocolate ice cream base, white and dark fudge chunks, pecans, walnuts, and fudge-covered almonds. There's truly something for everyone.

Today, according to its website, Ben & Jerry's produces nearly 200 million pints of ice cream annually in the United States. Their products can be found in 36 countries.

There's no doubt that Cohen and Greenfield have mastered the ice cream business, but it's perhaps their friendship that is most impressive. It's the kind of lifelong bond that starts as children and fosters and grows as people reach adulthood and beyond. We should all look to Cohen and Greenfield as an example of what a true friend really is.

Ben & Jerry met in middle school gym class

Picture it: a track in Long Island filled with kids, all in matching uniforms, sprinting their way around the oval in a constant competition to see who was the fastest. Sounds like every seventh grade gym class in America. But enter Cohen and Greenfield, who told Entrepreneur, "Running around the track, we were the two slowest, fattest kids in class." In fact, Business Insider reported that Cohen says they met specifically on a day that Greenfield passed out in class. And so a bond was formed that would last throughout their college years, into their lives as young adults, and continues today.

After high school, Greenfield went to Oberlin College, where he was pre-med, while Cohen attended college for a short period, then dropped out (via Business Insider). According to Entrepreneur, Cohen had an unsuccessful stint as a potter after college. Eventually, the two friends moved in together in New York with plans to open their own business (via Business Insider).

Ben & Jerry's was almost a bagel shop

According to Entrepreneur, Cohen and Greenfield had $8,000 to start their new business. Their first attempt was bagels. The idea was to sell and deliver bagels, lox, cream cheese, and The New York Times (via Ben & Jerry's website). However, bagel production proved to be too expensive, even after trying to negotiate prices on ovens and equipment. So, the pair began to reassess their plans, looking toward other foods to center their shop around. The prospect of ice cream was raised (via Entrepreneur). "We couldn't afford the bagel stuff. And that's why we decided it had to be ice cream," Cohen told Entrepreneur.

The pair learned how to make ice cream through a course offered by Penn State University and taught themselves business skills via pamphlets from the Small Business Administration. They studied their textbook, "Ice Cream," by Wendall S. Arbuckle, thoroughly. In the beginning, the entrepreneurs worked seven-day, 10-hour weeks. However, all their hard work was worth it when they got their first shop, located in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, up and running (via Entrepreneur).

And so Ben & Jerry's was born. But, as a quick side note, Cohen wanted to name the company Josephine's Flying Machine. Greenfield wasn't on board (via Ben & Jerry's website).

Ben & Jerry have only ever gotten into one fight

Cohen and Greenfield have only ever fought once over the course of their friendship and business partnership, or so they say. The two chatted it over in an interview with Esquire:

"The only real argument we ever had was about the size of the chunk. I wanted really big chunks," Cohen said.

"It was more than that," Greenfield replied. "Ben postulated that all our customers wanted really big chunks. As if everybody likes big chunks!"

"And they do!" retorted Cohen.

"I was making the ice cream," Greenfield said. "Big chunks make it much more difficult to make the ice cream."

Greenfield was obviously focused on flavor (and making his own job easier), while Cohen was focused on texture. The pair reported that the argument went on for weeks, and it was eventually the customers that ended it by declaring their preference for big chunks versus smaller chunks in the ice cream. "So it turns out Ben was right," Greenfield said.

Ben & Jerry perform taste tests together

Cohen told Esquire that he suffers from the medical condition anosmia, which Yale Medicine reports is a total loss of smell. Therefore, it's incredibly important that the pair do flavor taste testing together. Cohen, unable to smell the ice cream's aromas, thinks more about the texture, concentrating on factors like chunks and swirls. Greenfield focuses on the actual flavor and overall sensory experience behind enjoying the ice cream (via Esquire).

Cohen and Greenfield go on to discuss the now defunct flavor Dastardly Mash, which Cohen reports was one of his flavor creations with a chocolate base, nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. The flavor has now been retired, perhaps, as Cohen claims, due to the raisins. "...everything was fine except I was starting to not like the raisins because they were mushy! Americans in general do not like mush! People want crunch!" Cohen said (via Esquire).

Dastardly Mash's tombstone is featured on Ben & Jerry's website and confirms it was perhaps raisins that "caused its demise."

Friends first and forever

At the end of the day, Cohen and Greenfield are friends before they are business partners. "We chose to make our friendship the most important thing," Cohen told Entrepreneur. "It really helps to have a solid friendship with whoever you are doing it with before you start the business."

Business Insider reported that while the two have a shared love of food, when it comes to business, Cohen tends to be more "creative" and "spontaneous" while Greenfield is more "diplomatic."

Greenfield recalled an incident that showed the true power of the pair's friendship in the interview with Esquire.

"What's my definition of the word 'friend?' That's easy: Ben. About a week ago, I fell down, hit my head, and gashed myself before a concert. I was on the floor, and Ben, being the good friend that he is, came and lay down on the floor next to me while I was recouping. It wasn't like 'Are you okay? Can I help you?' It was like, 'I'm gonna lie down right with you,'" Greenfield said.