Career 180: From Accomplished Actress To Blue Marble Founder

By Heather Senison
amNewYork, New York.

Jennie Dundas is an accomplished actress, best known for playing Diane Keaton’s daughter in “The First Wives Club.”

A few years ago she and a friend decided to pursue her other passion: ice cream. In 2007, they launched Blue Marble, a Brooklyn-based certified organic ice cream company with two storefronts and a production space in Industry City in Sunset Park.

There’s also a nonprofit component, Blue Marble Dreams. Dundas lives in Harlem with her boyfriend and their 4-year-old son.

Question: Why did you leave acting?

A: It was unintentional and it was more of a pull factor than a push factor. It was more I found something that I was really passionate about, which was being an entrepreneur, and I became so obsessed with it that my former career just suddenly receded into the background.

Question: What made you want to make ice cream?

A: I love eating ice cream. I have always loved eating ice cream and my friend Alexis Gallivan showed up at a party and said, ‘Let’s open an ice cream shop in Brooklyn, there’s no great ice cream in Brooklyn,’ and I said, ‘Love it, awesome, let’s do it.’

Question: Did you and Gallivan make the first batches?

A: Neither of us have culinary backgrounds so we figured that we would be the expert tasters and we would be the brand makers. And so we worked with someone on the recipes and getting the product right. Billy Barlow, he’s my boyfriend, he makes all the ice cream.

Question: Talk about your nonprofit Marble Dreams.

A: We were approached by a woman from Rwanda in 2008, about six months after we started our business, and she asked us to partner with her and a group of Rwandan women to open an ice cream shop in her town in Rwanda. And two years later in 2010 we opened the shop and we established a nonprofit to raise the money to fund the shop.

Question: What kind of response has your shop had there?

A: Phenomenal, it’s doing great. It’s a favorite of many local Rwandans in Butare, which is the city where it is. And it’s a favorite of tourists as well. It’s a very unique product there in that locale.

Question: Do you travel to Rwanda?

A: I have been twice and Alexis has been about four times. I love it there, it’s very beautiful. The land itself is very beautiful and the community of people that we work with are just incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic to have us there. It’s been a great place to do business and work in community development.

Question: How does Blue Marble fit into the fabric of Brooklyn?

A: Blue Marble really spearheaded the artisan ice cream fad in Brooklyn. We were the first to introduce the concept of local sourcing and eco-friendly business practices into the world of ice cream in New York City. And so we were pioneers in that respect and proud that it happened in Brooklyn. We’re the ice cream that is at all the Brooklyn Flea markets and Smorgasburg. We’re kind of in with that core group of Brooklyn foodie people.

Question: What are the pros and cons of your new job?

A: The pro is the way that I get to use my creativity and that I get to learn from my own mistakes without losing my job. I really, really enjoy the learning curve, mentally, and coming from another profession where some of the skill sets were the same but some of them were vastly different. I really enjoy the constant stimulation of that, learning new things. And then the con is sort of single-handedly having to bear the responsibility for everything that could possibly go wrong in a growing business. No matter how big or small, the buck stops with you when you’re in charge. So it’s a big responsibility. And there is definitely no turning off the phone ever.

Question: Do you wish you had gone into this originally?

A: No! I was an actor for probably 25 years and I cherished that career profoundly and I feel this deep kind of cosmic gratitude that I got to have such a full and fulfilling time at something that most people who try it never get to experience the success that I felt. And then I got to turn a corner and work all the which is projections and spreadsheets and numbers. I’m very happy with the balance.

Question: How do your acting skills help with your business?

A: Contrary to popular belief, actors have a very rigorous work ethic. By necessity if you’re going to survive as an actor you have to work your tail off and sort of be willing to do anything to get yourself out there, and being an entrepreneur is the same. So I would say an undying commitment to your goal is certainly common. Creativity and problem-solving are prerequisites for being a successful actor and so too with being an entrepreneur. Working well with a team — if you don’t play well with others I don’t think your business has as great of a chance at success.

Question: What is your favorite flavor?

A: Vanilla [laughs]. I have to say our ice cream prides itself on being elemental. We are purists, we do classic flavors and we do them better than anyone so of course I have to love vanilla and be proud of it. I love our green tea ice cream; I love our ginger ice cream. Our strawberry ice cream cannot be beat.

Question: What are you guys doing next?

A: We just launched our product on JetBlue. We were chosen out of a rigorous selection process as the ice cream of choice on their new business class/first class. They’re serving our mini cups. We’re launching a triple mini pack that’s going to be vanilla, chocolate and sea salt caramel that’s going to be available on Fresh Direct. We have our pumpkin ice cream coming out for the fall, and our popcorn maple toffee ice cream launching at both our scoop shops. We just upgraded our production space in Industry City and we’re going to be adding a retail space there this coming spring.

Question: Any advice for readers considering a career 180?

A: Go for it and be prepared to work your butt off.

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