Ben & Jerry's on the Upper West Side, whose banner gives catering rates. by the Forward

Meet the Ben & Jerry’s franchisee pushing back against boycott — and his customers, who just want to cool off

Photo by PJ Grisar

It’s a high of 90 in New York, but the southeast corner of 104th and Broadway is shady with scaffolding seating. It helps that there’s ice cream nearby.

Joel Gasman’s Ben & Jerry’s store, a handsome scoop shop with a mosaic pillar at the entrance, is supplying the usual bonanza of flavors and, beginning this week, a bit of resistance directed at the corporate office.

Objecting to Ben & Jerry’s plan to stop selling in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Gasman announced on the store’s social media Monday that 10% of profits would now go to “State of Israel education causes” The specific causes are still being decided, but Gasman has reached out to a few so far.

Gasman, a sturdy guy with a white beard, clothed in a black Ben and Jerry’s tee (emblazoned “STAFF” on the back), is ducking in and out of a backroom when I see him. Business is good, he confirms, because the weather’s hot.

Gasman took over the Upper West Side location in 2003, but has been a franchise owner since 1997, when he ran a store in the East Village. He’s always loved the ice cream and was working in the store when he heard Ben & Jerry’s controversial announcement.

“The moment we heard Ben & Jerry’s corporate opinion, we thought about mentioning to the community that we are independently owned and operated and that our views don’t align with theirs,” Gasman said.

Gasman, whose son had his bar mitzvah in Israel, said that other Ben & Jerry’s franchise owners in other cities share his view. He said that “the only concern you should have when coming into our store is deciding if you want rainbow or chocolate sprinkles,” but also is confident his statement about supporting Israeli education programs was the right one. He didn’t mention plans to find a new brand, but let me know his favorite flavor: New York Super Fudge Chunk.

When I arrive at 2 p.m., a family is ordering cakes. A man is perched on a wheeled walker by the door with a coffee cup. There’s no sign of protest or deluge of support, even as the store’s Facebook page is flooded with praise mixed with threats of further boycott. (As one anti-boycott commenter put it: “My grandfather wouldn’t buy a Mercedes from a Jewish car salesman, and I won’t buy Ben and Jerry’s from a Jewish franchisee.”)

Those dropping in for a scoop seemed unaware of the store’s decision. One woman with a Hebrew ankle tattoo, wheeling a stroller with a tot and tot-sized scooter, said it made her rethink shopping there, but then emerged with a scoop.

Matt Clavel, 45, brandishing a cone of cookie dough (did you know that B&J cofounder Ben Cohen’s name is an example of an [aptonym?]9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aptronym0) said he agreed with Ben & Jerry’s that the settlements are wrong. As for Gasman’s choice to donate his profits, he was skeptical.

“It sounds to me like P.R., but maybe he feels very strongly about it,” Clavel said.

One woman, in a sun hat and sunglasses, said she was unaware of any controversy surrounding her choice of frozen treat, too exhausted by the virus to follow the news. She said she’d look it up.

Indeed, beating the heat with something sweet was on the mind of most, and others were on their usual rounds, an employee from the barbershop next door dropping in for his coffee.

But one customer, Mia Cucufate, 20, said she believed the decision by Ben & Jerry’s corporate was “a step forward.” When I mentioned Gasman’s plan, her face fell a bit. “Whoas” were aired.

Still, politics were not what had brought her and two friends to the store, which they walk by frequently.

“We usually get Ben & Jerry’s because it’s a hot day,” Cucafate said.

Correction July 28, 2021, 1:28 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Gasman heard from other franchisees in New York City who felt similarly. Gasman had heard from other franchisees in other large cities, not store owners in New York.

Author

PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.

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