Blue Bell is Back and Mattress Mack is Celebrating (Of Course)
Photo by Max Burkhalter
Blue Bell is hitting Texas shelves and right here in Houston, Gallery Furniture's owner, Jim McIngvale (aka Mattress Mack) is ready to celebrate. It's hard to believe that only a few months ago we were wondering how the Brenham-based company would ever put the listeria outbreak behind it. Now we can see that was a foolish concern. Blue Bell is back, the listeria has already been forgotten and we need no greater proof than McIngvale's plans to commemorate the big comeback with a party, complete with be free Homemade Vanilla and no mention of listeria.
Blue Bell ice cream trucks started arriving at Houston grocery stores at 4 a.m. Monday, according to KPRC.
It's hard to believe that it was only last April that the ice cream and other frozen treats produced by Blue Bell were yanked off the shelf in a voluntary recall after state and federal health inspectors had discovered listeria in Blue Bell products. Listeria is a pathogen that can be found almost everywhere, including in soil, water and food, and unlike other bacteria it has actually evolved so that it thrives in cold, moist areas like refrigerators and ice cream factories. Food and Drug Administration investigators discovered over the course of their examination of Blue Bell that surfaces at the company's facilities had been testing positive for listeria for years, but Blue Bell never tested the ice cream for the bacteria.
Ultimately, listeria was tied to products from all three Blue Bell plants, located in Brenham, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama. The plants were shut down and about 1,450 of 3,900 employees were laid off and 1,400 were furloughed while Blue Bell officials worked to get the listeria out of its facilities. For a while, things were looking grim for the company, as we detailed in our July cover story, "A Sticky Mess". Many wondered how Blue Bell would ever recover from this.
But just as it seemed like the little creamery in Brenham was swirling the drain, the company got an injection of funds from Fort Worth oil man Sid Bass (in exchange for a third of the company) and suddenly it bounded back to life. Blue Bell announced that the Alabama health officials had signed off on the company starting up production again at the Sylacauga plant at the end of July. In August the company announced that ice cream would be hitting the shelves by the end of the month.
It's been fascinating to watch Blue Bell handle this mess. They've managed to spin the return of ice cream to grocery shelves as a joyful event and Blue Bell fans have eagerly climbed aboard the band wagon. That includes the most reliable
opportunist fan around, McIngvale, Mattress Mack himself. Not that we experienced an iota of surprise over the party. We know can always count on the owner and founder of Gallery Furniture to spot a popular sentiment and to proceed to milk it for all its worth.
After all, this is the guy who was savvy enough to know that dressing up like a mattress and promising that "Gallery Furniture saves you money" in countless TV ads would help get people in the door. He also is a smart enough judge of the public to buy Princess Diana's jewels to display in his main furniture store, knowing the money would be worth it because people would come to gawk at the jewels of a dead royal and then buy some furniture. Right now, he is promising that customers who spend $7,000 on furniture will get their furniture free if West Texas Intermediate crude oil hits $85 per barrel this year. Again, it's a sharply clever bit of judgment on what the public wants since there are plenty of people around here desperate to believe that oil will go back up, and they'll give business to the guy who is also pledging to believe it, no matter how slim a chance there is in reality
Thus it's no shock that McIngvale took in public sentiment on the Blue Bell listeria mess and got on the "Support Blue Bell" train. He produced yard signs for Blue Bell fans to pick up when word of the listeria contamination first broke back in March, and his flashing sign would trumpet his backing of the ice cream company in between its sales promotions.
Now, that the crisis is passed — Blue Bell is now making Homemade Vanilla, Cookies and Cream, Dutch Chocolate and the Great Divide and the ice cream started hitting stores on Monday — McIngvale's holding an ice cream social from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at all three Gallery Furniture locations to commemorate the return of the "national ice cream of Texas."
“Gallery Furniture is a great Texas brand and we support other Texas brands, just like Blue Bell, which has been a Texas icon for more than 100 years,” McIngvale stated in a release announcing the shindig. “We are thrilled to have them back and couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.”
So if you don't get to the store in time to snag a container of ice cream before it sells out — nobody seems concerned about the whole listeria thing so the odds are good the stuff is flying off the shelves — there's still a chance to get your fix at Gallery Furniture.