Primo Partners owns and operates 14 Ben & Jerry’s locations. The company is led by Antonio McBroom, Eric Taylor and Phillip Scott, three Black entrepreneurs who are leading the company’s growth and social missions.
Antonio McBroom, Eric Taylor and Phillip Scott are three men on a mission. The Ben & Jerry’s franchisees are the founders and operators of Primo Partners, the largest and only Black-owned and -led Ben & Jerry’s franchise group. They are looking to bring diversity and education to the communities they serve.
McBroom, CEO of Primo Partners, began his journey with Ben & Jerry’s during his freshman orientation at the University of North Carolina when he saw the brand for the first time and found the store hiring. The store, he said, was a cool place to work and listen to music and didn’t open until 11 a.m., avoiding that early start most college kids dislike.
“The deal that really sold it for me was the free milkshake every shift that you work,” McBroom said. He scooped his way through college and fell in love with the brand. He became a manager, and just as he was about to graduate in 2008 and enter the real world, he and friend Eric Taylor began asking some big questions. Could they own their own Ben & Jerry’s franchise? What would it take?
“Everything fit and we began pursing becoming the youngest owner/operators in the company,” McBroom said. “Just before graduation we purchased our first shop and that really began a journey of entrepreneurship with Ben & Jerry’s for us.”
They spent the first couple of years falling for the guest experience and turning around the shop they purchased and making it “the” cool place to work and be at on UNC’s campus. The newly formed Primo Partners were “interested in omnichannel before omnichannel was a thing,” McBroom said. “We started looking at places to take our ice cream on campus where there was a sporting event, or when there was any kind of celebration. Any place that needed some fun, that’s where Ben & Jerry’s was.”
They grew the business and quadrupled sales in their first store. From there, they became known for contracting ice cream at large special events, such as sports games, music festivals and corporate celebrations. They would travel all over the United States and pull off big events.
They brought on Scott as a marketing intern, whom McBroom had mentored for years. Scott would handle the social media component of the business, and now serves as COO. He eventually went to Atlanta and rebooted the brand there.
“That’s a market that’s really supportive of Black and brown entrepreneurs,” McBroom said. “It really has a ton of resources and a community that supports entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. Phillip went to Atlanta and started our Ben & Jerry’s business there. It started thriving and since then, we really look for ways to spread our entrepreneurial spirit throughout the Southeast in diverse and multicultural major cities.”
Antonio McBroom, Eric Taylor and Phillip Scott run Primo Partners, which owns and operates 14 Ben & Jerry’s units. Provided.
Primo Partners now operates 14 Ben & Jerry’s shops across Atlanta, Georgia; Houston, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Washington D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri and the Carolinas. A 15th location is scheduled to open this year, meeting a company goal of 15 units in 15 years.
“At this point, we look at our Primo journey as a movement,” McBroom said. “We’re approaching our 15-year anniversary and the things that we’ve been able to achieve and accomplish and the impact that we’ve been able to have in our communities through mentoring, scholarship programs and internship programs and through supporting partners who really are aligned with us in terms of equity and criminal justice reform — that impact is really the fuel that drives us to keep growing and keep doing what we’re doing.
“Our mission at this stage is just to continue to develop diverse businesses, diverse communities and, most importantly, leaders so that we can close the financial achievement gap.”
Part of that inclusion has been to adopt Ben & Jerry’s flavors that represent the Black community, such as partnerships with Chance the Rapper, Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay. Primo Partners wants to create more diverse spaces in all the communities they serve. The brand, McBroom said, excels at allowing Primo Partners to use the franchise as a vessel to provides access to education, consulting, mentorship and resources to Black entrepreneurs and business owners.
“Being more internal about inclusive outcomes has been one of the impacts Primo has looked to leave on the Ben & Jerry’s overall company legacy,” McBroom added. “We consider ourselves an iconic brand inside of an iconic brand, and as a result, we’ve got to push each other. They say ‘iron sharpens iron’ and I think that the leadership, co-founders Jerry and Ben, all embrace the push that Primo makes on the company.”
An internal metric — “Either it’s a quarter black or it’s whack” — means that Primo Partners looks at representation for how it supports the Black community, whether through its staffing or with its vendors.
“We push the company to do the same as it relates to team make up, as it relates to suppliers and as it relates to … the flavor profile,” McBroom said.
A total of 1% of Primo Partners’ revenue yearly is committed to equity and criminal justice, such as partnering with non-profit “we are” working to expand the fight against racism in the education system. The company also works closely with the United Way in the cities where it has Ben & Jerry’s locations to help eradicate poverty.
Its biggest investment is internally with the company’s leaders, developing those employees professionally and giving them world-class tools to better themselves with training programs like Outward Bound and Positive Intelligence.
Primo Partners’ sales were up 104% from 2020 to 2021 and 77% from 2021 to 2022. The company has a three-year plan to bring it up to 25 Ben & Jerry’s shops. They also want to put an employee stock ownership plan in place.
“I think one of the things that shows is our commitment to growth, and that’s one of the big reasons I came back to work for the organization full time in 2019,” Taylor, the company’s CFO, said. “We knew at that point we wanted to continue to grow, develop more people, and we’ve grown exponentially over the past several years.”
Primo Partners started out with seven locations in 2022 and doubled in size last year with the help of a great senior leadership team.
“We’re always pretty aggressive with our vision of the company, and that’s one of the things that we’ve seen over the past several years is that when we put something on paper, we’re able to achieve it,” Taylor said.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living.