Phil Donahue, Häagen Dazs, Ra El and Me

Jeff, Ra El and Phil Donahue on Nov 19, 1986
On November 19, 1986, my wife and I were guests on Phil Donahue’s nationally syndicated TV show along with the founders of Häagen Dazs.

An author, Sharon Nelton, had written a book called In Love and In Business about couples who ran companies together. On stage with us were Rose and Reuben Mattus, the founders of Häagen Dazs, the extraordinary premium ice cream brand started in the Bronx by Jewish Polish immigrants. Reuben’s mother actually founded the ice cream company in the 1920’s but Reuben invented  the Häagen Dazs brand in the 1960’s. The Matteus’ had sold their company to Pillsbury in 1983. 

Rose and Reuben Mattus- Founders of Haagen Dazs
Sharon Nelton, the author, was also on stage as was June  Collier who was President and CEO of National Industries, a large industrial electrical supply company to the car industry. She and her husband were divorced but she was a feisty CEO who added flavor to the conversation. 

Ra El 

Phil Donaue 
This all came back to me as I went downstairs in my basement to turn off a light that Fanny had left on as she was packing up some of her stuff for her move to Wilmington. A light came on in my head as I stumbled upon the framed photograph in my basement from that day when we had another moment in the spotlight. Seeing this photographs made me want to find the videotape from the show that was buried with a shelf full of other Rachel’s Brownies related publicity.

MomentSlater author 24 years ago

Jeff and Ra El on the set of The Phil Donahue Show 
Watching the tape and my 34 year old self, made me reflect back on how fortunate I have been to have a partner in marriage and at the time, in business, who was such a compliment to my strengths and skills. We looked so young in the 24 year old video. 

Ra El got to talk about the brownies and how she would write each label by hand with a perfectionist eye for detail. I used my accelerator and brake metaphor during the show (I was the accelerator and she was the break) so our business zoomed along but at a controlled rate of growth. We talked about how our family came first (Sarah was 5 and Fanny was 1) and we learned to balance work and home. I mentioned that we had a little horizontal hand gesture that we would use when one of us was tired of talking business and when we needed a break.  What a stirring up of memories.

A pint of joy
Watching and listening to Rose and Reuben was a sweet treat for me too since they were of my grandparent’s generation and represented so many traits of immigrants whose work ethic and creativity enriched our American culture. Reuben was a marketing genius without any formal or traditional business education. One thing that came through on the show was some of Reuben’s frustration that Pillsbury wasn't taking advantage of his creativity. He was fearful of becoming like Colonel Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken. He followed his instincts and his own taste buds and out marketed all the big companies who tried to force him out of distribution. 

Rose Mattus with Mattus Ice Cream before Haagen Dazs
At the time of this broadcast in 1986, a pint of their ice cream sold for around $2.00. Today it costs $5.00

Listening to the show, I heard Reuben provide such sage advice about marketing and differentiation. This man invented an entirely new category in ice cream called super premium. His work preceded Ben & Jerry by more than a decade and his philosophy was so counter intuitive that it was a thing of beauty. His recipe for success was to make a better product with better ingredients than anyone else and charge more. Whether it is dry cleaning, lollipops or ice cream, find a way to be different from everyone else. 

And Rose Mattus was the financial genius behind the business. I once heard a mutual acquaintance tell me that they loved working with Reuben but feared negotiating with Rose. She was one tough cookie. 

Although at the time I was on the TV show as a brownie expert, I am really more of an ice cream professional. Since ice cream is one of the 3 foods I would take with me to a desert island, I know what I am talking about.  ( I almost wrote dessert island which might be more accurate). In case you are wondering, the other two things would be apples and Thomas’ corn English muffins.

The name Häagen Dazs is a made up marketing word to sound Scandinavian or Danish since Reuben knew that the Danes made great dairy products. Ironically, none of the sounds of that name are remotely Scandinavian but just sounded exotic. There is nothing foreign about his wisdom and sound council on how to succeed.

My favorite part of the show is when Phil turns to the producers of the show and says, “The audience wants to see these fabulous brownies, and does anyone have one?”  Of course, I had several in my pocket to make sure I could get some great PR out of the moment, and I reached into my pocket and handed fill one of our brownies. It was one of those moments that truly is a MomentSlater since it represented an opportunity I was prepared for and a playful way of having fun while under the TV lights.  When I took the brownie out of my pocket, Phil said, 

"You know who is the real marketer in the family"
I know this is a moment of vanity for me but it did give me great pleasure to see Phil Donahue calling me the real marketer in the family as I sat on stage next to the founder of Häagen Dazs. Although she won't admit it, my wife's dedication to perfection and the highest standard was the true driving marketing force in our business. Reliving all of this again made me smile and so thankful for this strange opportunity it makes me want to scream...for ice cream. 

Rachel’s Brownies and Häagen Dazs got to be together on the set of Phil Donahue in 1986. By the magic of video tape and photography, I got to watch my beautiful wife talk about our business again and to hear Reuben Mattus share his marketing wisdom. Talk about a frozen memory. 

In some ways, watching this only makes me hungry for more.

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