32 years ago today, on February 15th, 1987, ice cream magnates Ben and Jerry’s officially released a new flavor called “Cherry Garcia” as a tip of the hat to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. The new flavor was an instant hit and remains one of the Vermont-based company’s most popular and “longest-serving” products. Cherry Garcia’s success also went on to inspire a variety of jam-oriented ice cream batches over the years including “Phish Food” (another longtime staple) and limited-time flavors tied to Bob Marley, Dave Matthews Band, and more.
The countless people who have eaten Cherry Garcia over the years can direct their gratitude toward one particular person–and it’s neither Ben nor Jerry. The person responsible for the idea was Jane Williamson, a Grateful Dead fan who posted the suggestion on a bulletin board at her local Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in Maine, and subsequently followed up with a postcard sent directly to the company’s Burlington, VT headquarters. It read:
Dear Ben & Jerry’s:
We’re great fans of the Grateful Dead and we’re great fans of your ice cream. Why don’t you make a cherry flavor and call it Cherry Garcia? You know it will sell because Dead paraphernalia always sells. We are talking good business sense here, plus it will be a real hoot for the fans.
The suggestion was made anonymously and, for a while, the company was unsure of who sent them this million-dollar idea. When they eventually connected the dots and found out it was Williamson, they invited her to a shareholders’ meeting as a guest of honor, where she received a standing ovation (and a year’s supply of ice cream to go along with it).
According to Ben & Jerry’s website, the company wanted to make sure that Jerry was into the idea before spreading the new flavor far and wide, so they sent the first 8 pints they made straight to Garcia, who eventually gave Cherry Garcia his blessing. As he responded to the ice cream makers through his publicist, “As long as they don’t name a motor oil after me, it’s fine with me.”
Happy birthday to Cherry Garcia, the flavor that changed the ice cream game, and much love to Jerry Garcia, the man behind the name.