On November 19, 1986, my wife and I were guests on Phil
Donahue’s nationally syndicated TV show along with the founders of Häagen
|Jeff, Ra El and Phil Donahue on Nov 19, 1986|
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|
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.
Labels: Famous Moments, Haagen Dazs, marketing, Phil Donahue, Rachel's Brownies