Posted on September 1, 2023
Jay Griffin loves Bonkey’s Ice Cream & Snoballs, not because of their delicious frozen confections (in which he would surely indulge, if he weren’t lactose intolerant), but because of the experience he’s had these past four years working with Bonkey’s co-owner Keith Gordon, “the best boss” Jay’s ever had.
Jay, 44, a Penn-Mar resident since 2010, is one of those people to whom you take an instant shine. He’s gregarious, and fun to be around…just ask Keith.
“We serve up smiles at our stores, and that’s what Jay does with me –he serves up smiles,” said Keith, who with his wife Bonnie Cunningham opened their first Bonkey’s in New Freedom, Pa., in 2003.
Ever since Jay, who grew up in Reistertown, Md., graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind 23 years ago, he has consistently held down various jobs in the community gaining useful experience in the food industry. A few of the establishments he’s worked for include Chick-fil-A in Westminster, and Wegman’s and Texas Roadhouse in Hunt Valley. “I like working hard and staying busy,” he said.
Penn-Mar Employment Coordinator Lila Barchey has worked with Jay over the past few years and describes him as a great communicator.
“Jay is really easy to talk to,” said Lila. “He loves to work and has fun doing it. He does a wonderful job working with Keith, and Keith loves having him. They have a really great relationship.”
Putting a literal spin on the term “man Friday,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “an efficient and devoted aide or employee; a right-hand man,” Jay works with Keith every Friday during Bonkey’s business season, which runs from the beginning of spring to the end of summer or early fall. Together they run errands, pick up supplies, load up orders from Bonkey’s main facility in Windsor, Pa., where they produce all their frozen treats, and then make deliveries to the shops’ six locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and two locations along Delaware’s shore.
“No two days are ever the same when you’re a business owner,” said Keith. “But we plan and put some miles on the van. We always have something to do. I have the best job in the world. If you love what you do, it’s not like work,”
“This is a perfect job for Jay,” Lila said. “I don’t know if he realizes that this is even work for him because he has so much fun spending time with Keith and helping him.”
Bonnie + Keith = Bonkey’s
Although Bonkey’s was officially established with the opening of its first ice cream and snoball shop 20 years ago in New Freedom, its origin story began in Baltimore in 1953, when Bonnie Cunningham’s father Joe started selling snoballs made from homemade egg custard syrup and shaved ice in order to pay his brother back for wrecking his car. His snoballs became a local favorite.
Fast forward to 1993, when Bonnie decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and open her own snoball stands in the Baltimore area with expanded flavors and combinations. It was the success of her stands over the next 10 years that encouraged her to open their first Bonkey’s.
“It came with a lot of hard work,” said Keith, who drove a tractor trailer for two years, ran a photography business, and with Bonnie sold pit beef sandwiches at their first Pennsylvania stand in Stewartstown that opened in 1999. “We did whatever we could to survive those first few winters.”
As Keith’s roles changed over the years with Bonkey’s growth leading him to being on the road more and more going from one location to the next, he realized he could use some help on the truck. Even though he had never hired a person with disabilities, he had often thought about it. The opportunity arose when a former Job Developer with Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment (CE) program delivered a presentation to the York County Rotary Club to which Keith belongs.
Keith reached out to Penn-Mar and met with the Job Developer who presented Jay as a potential candidate. “He said we’re looking for more than just an employer, but someone who can build relationships. I said I’m all about that.”
“While I love being my own boss, my heart is in pouring out on others and building relationships,” said Keith, who is very involved in mission work through his church and network of churches that have taken him to Albania and multiple trips to Jamaica in the past 10 years. “I have a huge heart for compassion and want to help anyone I can.”
I am a DJ
Jay prides himself on his independence. He likes to cook for himself, he said, and several years ago he took up DJing. “I wanted to do it, so I researched it,” Jay said. “I ordered the equipment and started. I made it happen.”
When he’s not working, Jay spends his time at the Penn-Mar Central Day Program in Freeland, where he will DJ events. Bonkey’s donated ice cream for one such event, an Ice Cream Social, held this past June.
“Jay doesn’t want to miss out on working, but he doesn’t want to miss out on anything fun happening at Penn-Mar either,” said Lila. “If he needs to take time off work or swap out a day, he’ll coordinate it with Keith. He’s very responsible.”
Jay’s weeks just got a little busier with a second job he acquired through Penn-Mar’s CE program with the catering company Tasteful Occasions working two days a week. Of course, he continues working with Keith every Friday.
“I don’t see Jay going anywhere unless I go somewhere,” laughed Keith. “We try to have fun, because life’s too short and it should be fun.”