"Won't you step into the freezer?"

Danielle Kaltz
investigates Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop

 

I have a confession to make, (alright, I most likely have a bunch of those) but this one has to do with a slight obsession, (ok, ok, I have a few of those too…) but what I am trying to get at is, ICE CREAM! "Was it for this my life I sought?" I adore good ice cream. Ohhh… memories of that little shop in Berlin off the lime-lined street, every day they had new flavors and when it ran it out it was gone for who knew how long? I also adore coconut ice cream at Thai restaurants and green tea ice cream at sushi bars. But mostly, I have a pretty huge weakness for Ben & Jerry's pints of bliss.

Therefore you can imagine my excitement when I was cruising with some buddies south on Woodward and I saw it, the tell tale no face cow on green grass with white fluffy clouds suspended in a blue sky on a little sign in the window no larger than 16 x 20, announcing a new Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop coming soon to the Compuware Headquarters Building.

I was very excited as I had never been to a Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop and could only fantasize about all the delicious opportunities awaiting me. Now I must admit I have not tried all their flavors - who can keep up anyways? I do love to try new ones all the time, but I have a few favorites. 'Karamel Sutra' and yes I tried it because of the name, but it is so good, dare I say 'une petit mort'! Then there is the flavor I always keep in my stash; 'Phish Food'.

Now my favorite way to eat a pint is to share, well sort of… pick a pint, ok, sometimes two, get a big bread knife and cut the pint in half! Besides, who wants to wait for the pint to make its way back? I know I can bogart a pint. Or I like to go to my favorite neighborhood bar order a Kahlua & coke with no ice, I then scoop a few dollops of what ever flavor I have selected that night, ('Chunky Monkey' is a great choice) and eat away at the bar, it is as good as nectar.

But back to the Scoop Shop, being the freak I am I looked into the store's much anticipated arrival and found it was to open before the big baseball game in June. I of course went right to website and signed up to be a 'Chunk Spelunker' for events going on in my area: Detroit, Michigan. I could not believe this was about to be an addition to my city. I even found excuses to drive by; on my way to work which was out of the way, took breaks at work to run 'errands', and drove by on my days off. It was a longing, but it was not open for the big game, so I waited having faith that now being I was an official 'Chunk Spelunker' I would get the email telling me of the opening, well it never came.

Then one night as I was enjoying music of Audra Kubat on Campus Martius, I saw a woman walk past me with a small cup in her hand. I was so excited I grabbed my friend's hand and dragged him practically running north on Woodward to the storefront. Ohh, I was so excited I could have peed! The line was long but it was not a problem because by time I got to the counter I was still not sure what flavor or flavors I wanted to select. Therefore in order to make the correct choice I had to sample at least 5 different flavors, I could have sampled all night but I didn't want them to make mental note of me for future sightings and limit my sampling. So I made my selections; one scoop of the Gobfather and Dublin Mudslide (the only flavor I have ever not liked, and only because I am not a fan of either Irish Cream Liqueur or coffee).

I have returned many times to the shop, on my way to work, during breaks, and even on days off. A few days ago, I found myself talking to one of the managers, Patrice Johnson and I learned that all of the staff are Goodwill Industries employees and all proceeds go to Goodwill Industries as part of the Partnership Program for nonprofit organizations. Together Goodwill and Ben & Jerry's as part of a community assistance program give training to youth and young adults that may face barriers to employment. At this shop most of the employees are at risk teens that live in shelters around the city, like Covenant House, Alternatives for Girls, and foster homes. All the employees are trained in a classroom setting for up to 8 weeks where they learn customer service, how to be on time, and basic employment skills. After that they are trained in the Scoop Shop, which yes means sampling every flavor and memorizing all the ingredients in each of these flavors, they then learn about Sustainable Agriculture, Global Warming, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, Socially Aligned Sourcing, and Fair Trade, and you thought this was all about a sugar buzz! Their tour of duty will include a six month position at Ben and Jerry's working up to 5 days a week with four hour shifts (state law mandates that youth have restrictions to the amount of hours worked per week, because they should dedicate a certain of time to education. ) Upon completion they are then assisted by Goodwill Industries with job placement somewhere else in the community to apply the skills that they have learned.

Recently, I spoke with 21 year old Michelle Walter, who had just been promoted to management, as a Shift Leader. I asked Michelle about the training program and how working at the Scoop Shop would affect her future. She said definitely customer service, about how important it is to just say 'hi' to people as they enter the shop to make them feel comfortable and to let them know it is a friendly atmosphere. Which she believes is a huge part of anything Ben & Jerry, during the grand opening Jerry showed up and she said he was so laid back - he was even wearing tennis shoes and casual clothes and was really fun to have around!

Right now Michelle lives at Covenant House and is in the two year Rights of Passage Program, which help support and teach her the skills necessary for any young adult making the transition to adulthood. The program right now has about 20 people, with the residents living in dorm like situations with two people per room. The program teaches the importance of education, art of time management and requires that residents save 70% of there income so that when they complete the program they have the financial means to help support themselves.

In January Michelle plans to go back to college, she had been studying nursing but after working at the Scoop Shop she thinks she wants to change her major to business as she would some day like to own her own business, possibly cake decorating or wedding planning and yes in Detroit! She hopes she can handle the new challenge of working and going to school, I bet she can!!

While we were talking about her future plans one of her staff came in, who was late but who had called in to let her bosses know! Her name is Tomea Brown, 17, who has been working at the Scoop Shop since late August. Even though Tomea lives at home with her parents and is a senior in high school, she is still eligible to work at the shop. Her last job was as a police cadet and she says she likes this a lot more than that job!

The shop can at times have up to 12 employees on staff. Not all of them make it through the program: patience with the new program, unforeseeable circumstances in life and who knows maybe some just don't like ice cream. Michelle and Tomea don't seem to mind because they are happy to be learning skills that they will take with them into future.

Of course I couldn't leave without getting some ice cream and as usual I couldn't decide so I ask Michelle for a "Hand Packed" pint to go which I had her add; 1/3-Cherry Garcia and 1/3 Minter Wonderland and some Caramel Fudge Connection Michelle suggested! As I left I ask the girls what there favorites are…without a pause Michelle says 'Oatmeal Cookie Chuck', Tomea is a little more hesitant and comes up with 'Last Straw' and 'Chocolate Therapy'. "Sounds like the perfect sort of therapy to me."

Danielle Kaltz works and eats in Detroit. Send comments to Nick Sousanis, ws@thedetroiter.com.


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