All shop photos courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s Bluffton
Bluffton locals—especially those with a sweet tooth—know Palmetto Bluff resident Jeff Lobb as the owner of Ben & Jerry’s in Old Town Bluffton. Long before he became the “Chief Euphoria Officer” of the booming Bluffton franchise, however, Jeff’s career as a PepsiCo marketing executive took him from Toronto to New York, to the Carolina coast, and back again. Ultimately, there was just one location with a flavor that Jeff and his wife, Bay, couldn’t forget throughout their years of traveling: the Carolinas.
“When it came time to leave the Carolinas, we wanted to stay,” Jeff said. Since Jeff’s career was a priority at the time, the Lobbs reluctantly moved away from the area. “But we always knew we wanted to come back [to the Northeast].”
“One day” finally dawned in 2006, and the search was on for the perfect slice of paradise where the Lobbs could put down permanent roots. “We looked as far north as Landfall in North Carolina and as far south as the Bluffton-Hilton Head area,” said Jeff, “but Palmetto Bluff was a no brainer.”
Maybe it was the tree-lined drive leading up to the gates, or perhaps it was the sense of genuine community that permeated every corner of Palmetto Bluff. Whatever was in the air that day, Jeff and Bay both immediately sensed it. Together, they decided they were home.
Palmetto Bluff home recently sold by the Ussery Group
Their permanent residence was completed in 2014, and a slew of activities and involvements ranging from tennis matches to conservancy lectures quickly followed. The Lobbs’ dream had finally been realized, with just one exception. After years of thinking about it, Jeff still didn’t own his own business. But that was about to change.
“I’d always worked for big companies in marketing leadership roles and thought I’d be good at my own business,” Jeff said. “Realistically, though, I hadn’t done it.”
Given his corporate background, franchising felt like the right choice, and Ben & Jerry’s quickly emerged as the clear winner. Jeff had always been a fan of Ben & Jerry’s products and the company’s socially-conscious culture, to the point that he had scheduled a factory tour years prior during a family vacation in Vermont. Plus, the ultra-premium brand was starting to expand into the south and listed Beaufort County as an available franchising option. Combine all of the above with Bluffton’s explosive growth and Jeff’s readiness for a new adventure, and you have the recipe for one seriously sweet business endeavor.
“This was a great opportunity to either do it or, honestly, shut up about it. I didn’t want to be eighty years old saying, ‘I could have been a great businessman if I had just done it’,” Jeff said. “I’d done the serious corporate stuff, and anything else I did going forward had to be fun.”
Gaining the franchise rights was no piece of ice cream cake, though. “It was as much of a job interview as I’ve ever gone on,” Jeff recalled. “They want to make sure the brand is represented well.”
After securing the franchise rights, the fun officially began in May of 2017 when the doors of Ben & Jerry’s opened to the public for the first time. By the way, if you thought that “franchise” and “local” couldn’t be used in the same sentence, think again. The Lobbs proved their long-term commitment to the area by purchasing the Bluffton Promenade building that Ben & Jerry’s operates out of and hiring Pearce Scott Architects to give the store a Lowcountry look.
“I’ve got a mural of the Church of the Cross and the May River on the wall, and I have reclaimed wood on the wall which is very much a Lowcountry look rather than a standard from corporate,” Jeff said. “I would argue that my Ben & Jerry’s looks more local than most local businesses.”
The design details are certainly Instagram-worthy, but it’s the Lobbs’ commitment to giving back locally that really sets their business apart. “During the second week of April, we give away ice cream to all of our fans,” Jeff said. “We just ask them to consider making a donation to our [local] charity of choice, which is Backpack Buddies.”
In addition to the day-to-day running of a successful business, Jeff and Bay continue to be highly involved in the Palmetto Bluff community; Bay is a member of the Women of Palmetto Bluff and Jeff is on the Member Advisory Board.
“We like to play a role and participate in shaping Palmetto Bluff,” said Jeff. “It doesn’t really matter whether it’s business, philanthropy, charity, or community activities—there’s so much to get involved in. For my wife and I, participating in a local business has really enabled us to accelerate our feeling of belonging to the community. We’re transplants from Toronto, so it has really helped us feel like we’re committed. We are very much a part of Bluffton.”
Jeff Lobb with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s
A thriving business, a treasured community, and time left over for enjoying the Lowcountry lifestyle. What more could one possibly want?
“It might sound shallow, but I wanted to go to work in shorts and flip flops,” said Jeff. And by opening Ben & Jerry’s Bluffton, that’s exactly what he got.
Shorts, flip flops, and ice cream? Now that’s something we can all scream for!