After the initial flurry of press attention, I took each article or TV spot and showed them to other media to get more interviews and onto more shows. The more press I accumulated the easier it became to get other media interested. It just kept building on itself. TV crews and press photographers became such common occurrences at Great Midwestern that regular customers stopped being curious about the lights and cameras and simply ignored the activity to focus exclusively on their organoleptic indulgences.
It got to the point where Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, et al were doing stories.
Besides being able to leverage the press to get more press, I used the notoriety to negotiate the financing for a factory that could supply both supermarkets and franchise stores.
One day the receptionist at my ice cream factory ran up to me all a-twitter and said breathlessly, “Fred, the White House is on line 6.”
The person on the other end was Nancy Reagan’s social secretary, who told me that Nancy herself had tasted my ice cream and wanted to serve it at White House functions. The first date was to be the President’s Annual Picnic for all the members of Congress which was to be held on the south lawn of the White House. I was also invited to attend. (Basically, the ice cream was invited and I was told I could tag along.)
I had only been married for three months and here I was telling my new wife that we had just been invited to the White House. I really impressed her. (It has since been an extremely difficult act to follow.)
When we arrived, we got thoroughly sniffed by guard dogs and frisked by the Secret Service. Once inside the gates, we befriended a Coast Guard, one of the ceremonial servicemen whose sole job was to represent his branch of the military and hang out at the White House. (There were also representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.) I told the Coast Guard that we wanted to meet the President. He showed us where to stand so that the President and Mrs. Reagan would walk right into us.
There is a phenomenon called darshan, which is a Sanskrit word that means the immediate spiritual upliftment or blessing one receives upon seeing a great saint. In my past I have been in many gatherings that waited for such a personage. When the enlightened person would enter the room, even though you could not see him at first, you can feel a shock wave of excitement sweep across the crowd. Of course, this always culminated with the wonderful feeling of a darshan when you finally did see him.
I bring this up because when President Reagan emerged from the White House, even though I could not yet see him, I felt that same shock wave of excitement sweep across the crowd. Having associated the shock wave with darshan I immediately thought, “Wow, I’m going to get a darshan from President Reagan!”
Alas, when I finally saw the President, there was no darshan. Far from it. In fact, I was
stunned to see that Ronald Reagan was really just a very, very old man. And Nancy
Reagan was skinnnnnnnneeeeee. I had only seen them on television. But it was immediately
obvious that television did them both a great deal of favors. Television easily
subtracted 15 years from Reagan’s face and added 20-30 pounds to
I was standing with Mitch, our local ice cream distributor. (The White House let me invite some “helpers” to serve the ice cream at the picnic and I wanted to give our local distributor the joy of a White House invitation.) That evening happened to be Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and as the President approached, Mitch handed a letter that his six-year old daughter had written to the President. It read, “Dear Mr. President, Happy New Year, I love you. Signed Jessie.”
Reagan was visibly moved. Tears welled in his eyes. Then with his shaky hand he reached into his breast pocket and produced a gaudy, lumpy, gold-plated, jewel-encrusted pen. His hands shook as he offered it to Mitch to write down his address so that the President could send Mitch’s daughter a letter.
I was introduced to the President as the supplier of the ice cream for the event and how it had achieved rave reviews. He said, perfectly imitating President Reagan's accent and mannerisms, “Ahhh, I’m a dessert lover from way back.”
A herd of press people, many wearing scruffy jeans to this elegant event, were roped off some distance from the crowd. They shouted political questions to the President who in turn shouted back some evasive banter.
We then proceeded to the buffet line. The President went first, followed by Mrs. Reagan, followed by me. (Hey, I was hungry! Give me a break.) We each picked up an enormous dinner plate. On her enormous plate, Nancy Reagan served herself three baked beans. Not three spoonfuls, mind you, but three, count ‘em, three baked beans.
Tomorrow, I will
discuss the “Dark Side” of my ice cream story and how I got fired from the company I founded.