Venerable Vermont-based ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s could once again have a location in San Francisco’s gay Castro district if a local franchisee’s plan to open a store in the neighborhood wins approval.
The ice cream purveyor had served up its famous Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, and other flavors at a locally-owned store at 451 Castro Street near the Castro Theater until it closed roughly five years ago.
Now Lawrence “Mac” Maki, the president of I Scream Scoops, LLC who operates the Ben and Jerry’s store at Oakland’s Jack London Square, has settled on the Castro to open his second outlet.
He is in talks with the landlords for three retail spaces near the intersection of 18th and Castro Street in the heart of the gayborhood. Because only one of the potential storefronts in currently vacant and he does not have a signed lease, Maki declined to reveal the addresses during an interview with the Bay Area Reporter this morning (Wednesday, September 4), though he did allow none are prominently located at the intersection.
“I think it is the perfect partnership of the values of Ben and Jerry’s and the Castro and the LGBT community. I think those all match very well,” Maki said when asked why he had chosen the gayborhood to open another store.
The company has long been recognized for its pro-gay policies and has been a vocal backer of marriage equality efforts around the globe. It also backs labeling of genetically-modified organisms in food products.
“As of April 9 this year all the ice cream flavors we produce are fair trade certified. That is a huge development,” noted Maki.
Due to Ben and Jerry’s being a formula retailer, Maki will need to seek a conditional use permit from the city’s planning commission. He would like have a lease signed and permits approved in order to open by spring of 2014.
“Since we don’t have a lease agreement yet, it is very hard to tell you what the build out timeline would be,” said Maki, who has operated the Oakland store for 10 years.
He is hopeful he can avoid the negative reactions other chains that have sought Castro-based locations have received in recent months. Both Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill abandoned plans to open corner spots on upper Market Street due to neighborhood opposition.
Maki noted that his financial partner in the Castro store will be a gay man, Dan Meisenhoelder, who has been his “refrigeration guy” handling any freezer and HVAC issues at the Oakland store for five years.
And he sought out the advice of longtime customer and friend Robert Bernardo, a gay man who works for the Port of Oakland, about entering the Castro neighborhood.
“Mac approached me with his idea of opening a scoop shop in the Castro, and I told him that I thought it was a very good idea. So, I offered to give him pro bono marketing advice,” Bernardo told the B.A.R. “Mac is a smart entrepreneur who has ‘heart’ and he truly loves his product, really good ice cream (with a conscience).”
Bernardo added, “While I do not live in the neighborhood, I do think that a Ben & Jerry’s would benefit the community because it would attract jobs, tax dollars and tourists.”
Tomorrow morning, at the monthly meeting of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, Maki will make his first public presentation about his expansion plans. He intends to contact other Castro neighborhood groups and meet with them in coming weeks.
Asked what sort of reception a Ben and Jerry’s would meet in the Castro, MUMC president Terry Asten Bennett told the B.A.R. it “depends where they are trying to go.”