How North Market nurtured the original Jeni's scoop shop

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at the North Market

Jeni Britton Bauer is quick to credit her company's early success, in part, to her original location in the North Market. The market is the oldest farmers market in Central Ohio. With its fresh produce vendors, established artisan merchants and foodie foot traffic, the market was the ideal incubator for her food-based business.

"I can't stress how important the market is for our city," says Britton Bauer. "If we can expand that kind of incubating atmosphere, I think (that would be) amazing."

As a Downtown destination with reasonable lease rates, the market allowed Britton Bauer to build a following for her ice cream. She learned many business basics by watching her fellow merchants. Mastering "all the ups and downs and challenges of business," from customer service and displays to accounting, sourcing and production would not have been possible had she also been trying to drive traffic through a freestanding Jeni's shop.

In 2002, the Market was just beginning to attract the one-million annual visitors it currently hosts. After the market moved to its current space in 1995, "incubator was the word used quite a lot, because it was brand new," says Rick Wolfe, the North Market's executive director since 2013. "Now I think it's a balance between incubator and best-of-class."

The North Market has 35 merchant stalls and has had a 0% vacancy rate for years. Leases range from $17 per square foot (for fresh merchants) to $37.50 a square foot (for food stalls with hoods). Jeni's is the only ice cream vendor in the market; Pistacia Vera pastry kitchen and Katzinger's Delicatessen have opened stalls in the past year.

Wolfe's job is striking the right balance when signing on North Market merchants. He looks for a strong business plan first and foremost. "I know in my head what I feel the next thing we need is. It really (depends on) a great business plan and the needs of the market."