The ever so popular Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop in Old Town Fort Collins has been bringing smiles to customers faces for over two decades now. This sweet treat favorite has just about the perfect location in Old Town Square, located just steps from the splash pad and the music stage. You can see how Ben & Jerry's is such a hot spot especially during the summers when the Old Town stage hosts concerts, some of which are put on by Ben & Jerry's. In this week's community connections we got the opportunity to learn so much about the iconic ice cream shop after sitting down with one of its owners, Lee Swanson.
What do you love about Fort Collins?
Everything! After moving here from Indiana in 1981, it only took a couple of hours to fall in love with Fort Collins. I was a graphic designer at the time and was hired by a very small design firm that occupied the back end of the present day Food Co-Op at that time, the alley from there through the CooperSmith’s walkway out to Mountain Avenue was dirt! Parts of Lemay were dirt as was the top of Cameron Pass. It was still a kind of rough little town of 65,000. I love Fort Collins and intend to be here for the rest of my life.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Fort Collins?
My heart has always been in downtown Fort Collins. Every time I visit another town, I always compare and Fort Collins comes out on top. My wife and I have a T@B Camper that we use on a regular basis. I ride a bike to Ben & Jerry’s everyday it’s above 30 degrees, sunny and mostly calm. I ride the MAX when it’s not. Biking is in my blood and Fort Collins is the place to be for biking! In my younger days, mountain biking, sailing and back packing were a part of almost every weekend.
What makes Ben & Jerry’s unique?
We have what we think is the best location in town. We opened in 1996 and took over the former Children’s Mercantile spot. It’s a relaxing spot for people watching, there aren’t any cars passing by, there’s awesome water fountains and the best outdoor, music stage venue in town! We also sponsor some of the Friday summer concerts every year to help bring the Fort Collins community together. Ben & Jerry’s is a B-Corp organization and we’re proud of that distinction. We proudly serve premium ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and non-dairy options in a warm, cozy, fun shop with some of the friendliest scoopers this side of the Mississippi River!
What is the story behind how you started your Ben & Jerry's location?
As I was getting ready to turn 40, 22 years ago, I was compelled to try something other than graphic design. I told a buddy that I thought a new ice cream shop in Fort Collins would be cool. He said, “Have you ever considered Ben & Jerry’s?” I told him I had not because there were no Ben & Jerry’s brick and mortar shops. He quickly corrected me and the rest is history. My wife Ann and I, being in the marketing business, attracted the attention of Ben & Jerry’s folks in Vermont and went through a long process of letters, phone calls and live interviews- there was no internet. After six months, we had a franchise! They said we had been chosen from roughly 10,000 other applicants!
Tell us about yourself...
When I was in kindergarten, the teacher asked me (because I was a creative little guy) to make a giant paper heart that could be put up and all of the other kids’ Valentine’s cards could be put up on it. I made one that day and when I came to school the next day, the teacher had removed mine to put up a store bought, giant heart. I was devastated, but pledged to be the best artist in the world after that. I graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and moved to Denver later that year. Denver was not for me, but I met a guy going to a Denver marketing club meeting who said his company in Fort Collins was hiring. I asked where that was and have now been here for 37 years. There’s no place like home.
What do you want visitors to experience at Ben & Jerry's?
Peace, love and great ice cream!
Anything else you wanted to add…
We are glad to choose a responsible business model that gives back to the Fort Collins community. “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community,” Ben Cohen once said. Jerry Greenfield said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?!” Ben & Jerry’s was one of the first businesses to ever infuse fair trade, non-GMO, hormone-free dairy and as many natural ingredients as possible in our ice cream. They were also one of the first to implement a general sense of what’s right into a business model, much of what is common in many other businesses today.
Free Cone Day is Tuesday, April 10th from noon until 8 pm!
Address: 1 Old Town Square
Hours of Operation:
Mon - Thu: 11:00am - 9:00pm
Fri - Sat: 11:00am - 10:00pm
Sun: 11:00am - 9:00pm