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Friday, January 28, 2022
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Imagine you’re a writer for The Jewish Link and your editor suggests that you write a review of a new ice cream place by the Jersey Shore. What do you do?

First, say: “Yes!”

Second, if you know what’s good for you, invite your wife to come along. It’s like a date night and the mileage is tax deductible.

Third, if you’re anything like me, you invite the mayor of the town where the ice cream place is located to join you. And for good measure, you invite the mayor of your own town to participate. You may ask—why bring two mayors? Because mayors are perhaps some of the best experts on all sorts of food. When they’re campaigning, they visit all sorts of festivals and events and sample the food. When they’re in office, they’re often dropping by local restaurants, trying new offerings and checking in with the owners. With all that experience, mayors are excellent judges of ice cream.

And so it was that on Sunday, August 8, my wife, Fran, and I found ourselves at a table with Long Branch Mayor John Pallone and his wife, Svetlana, and Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler at Baked Bear Custom Made Sandwiches in Long Branch. The owner, Tyler Hess, graciously explained how we each would order our own ice cream sandwich. Step 1—choose from 12 types of cookies (mix & match allowed). Step 2—choose from 13 flavors of ice cream. Step 3—choose from 12 toppings. Step 4—ask for your sandwich (cookies only) to be warmed up.

We ordered and awaited our custom-made delights while Hess shared the story of how the ice cream parlor, which opened the weekend before Memorial Day, started: When he was serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed in San Diego, two friends opened the first Baked Bear store. Hess visited the store, recalled his East Coast origins, and thought: “This idea would work so well back home!” After completing his four-year stint in the Navy, Hess got married and moved to Neptune, New Jersey. He worked for Nestle for five years, then decided that he wanted a new challenge. He learned that the Baked Bear store was now opening franchises and knew it would be a great match.

On deciding to locate the store in Long Branch, he soon learned that there was a large observant Jewish community in town and he determined that the ice cream store would be kosher. He explained that “community” is one of the five core values of the Baked Bear chain and he wants the store to serve the whole community. He said that this value was especially important to him and it’s his priority that the whole community can eat there.

Hess has been very pleased with the assistance he’s received from the local vaad, JSOR (Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate), stating: “Rabbi Arking and Rabbi Kahn have been super-helpful and I’ve enjoyed working with them.” He added that his franchise is the only one of the 20 Baked Bear franchises that is kosher, a distinction he values greatly.

The Baked Bear is situated in the newly completed Pier Village section of town, which is adjacent to the beaches and boardwalk, an enclosed carousel, an outdoor event space, a large convention center and a string of new stores.

Asked how the business is doing, Hess said that it was initially slow, but as other businesses arrived in Pier Village, his grew. Baked Bear now serves roughly 300-400 customers a day on weekdays and 500-600 customers a day on weekends. The store is open on Saturday nights until midnight.

While Long Branch is a “Jersey shore” hot spot that attracts a large summer crowd (Mayor Pallone stated that the yearly population of the town is 31,000 and it doubles during the summer), Hess said that Baked Bear will stay open year-round, perhaps adding seasonal features to the menu in different months. The Baked Bear has also branched into the catering business, offering packages for weddings, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, children’s birthday parties, holiday gatherings and more.

How are the ice cream sandwiches?

Mayor Pallone and Svetlana ordered vanilla ice cream in red velvet cookies. He pronounced it: “Delicious, amazing, incredible!” Then Svetlana shared that they attended the ribbon-cutting months earlier and their 13-year-old son has been a frequent visitor ever since. Mayor Brill Mittler ordered chocolate chip cookies with salted caramel ice cream. She described it as “outrageously good,” then added, “It compares well with some of the truly great ice cream places we have in Highland Park.” Fran and I shared a sandwich of chocolate chip cookies with chocolate ice cream. It was really, really good. So good, we’re planning a return visit.

For more information or to visit: Baked Bear Custom Ice Cream Sandwiches is located at 15 Morris Ave, Unit 115, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Call them at 732-903-8940 or visit www.TheBakedBear.com  or [email protected] online.

By Harry Glazer

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