Founder’s hobby pays off in delicious global dividends

Bob Rook.
Bob Rook. Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

When Bob Rook left the music business to focus on ice cream full time in the mid-1990s, his goal was nothing less ambitious than to turn Emack & Bolio’s into a global brand.

Rook has finally pulled it off: The chain’s Asian store count – 30-plus, and growing – recently passed the total number of shops in the United States, 28. Not bad for a company Rook started in a Brookline basement in 1975 as a way for him to cure his musician friends’ “midnight munchies.”

Since Labor Day, franchisees have opened one shop apiece in Thailand and South Korea, and two in China (plus one in the United States, in Brooklyn). A second Emack & Bolio’s in Singapore opens next month. The chain’s three Boston-area shops (Charlestown, Back Bay, Porter Square) are the only corporate-owned locations.


Emack & Bolio’s is also ramping up sales of its new dairy-free ice creams, to target the vegan crowd, in its own shops and at supermarkets. This dovetails with the push in Asia, where Rook says at least 80 percent of the population has some form of lactose intolerance. He has been trying different recipes for about three years, but now feels he has a strong selection of vegan flavors that look and taste like regular ice cream. The company contracts with New England Ice Cream Corp. of Norton to produce its regular ice cream flavors, though its coconut-based vegan ice creams are made at its Charlestown store. The Asia expansion began about four years ago, when a customer moved to Thailand and decided he wanted to bring Emack & Bolio’s with him by opening a franchise there. Interest took off after an Instagram influencer kept posting photos of the Bangkok store. A major presence in a South Korean TV show helped, too.

“[Asia] became a reasonable avenue for what I always wanted to do, to build a global brand,” says Rook, who runs the business from offices in Boston and Hong Kong. “The value of the company is based upon how many people around the world you can reach.”


Asia turned out to be a good market to target: year-round warm weather and not much competition, relatively speaking. The trade war with China has not been easy, though. Consumers in China are showing more of an aversion to American products, and the company has had to split the cost of retaliatory Chinese tariffs with its partners there.

The chain has come a long way from when Rook ran it as a hobby while representing the likes of Aerosmith and The Cars on legal matters. “It’s still my hobby, to tell you the truth,” Rook says.

Tufts Medical School dean not ready for retirement

At 81, you can’t blame Harris Berman if he wants to slow things down a bit.

Retirement? Well, that’s another story. Berman just announced plans to step down as dean of Tufts Medical School at the end of the year. But he’ll still end up schlepping in to work come January, in a part-time role in the school’s development office.

“I was the oldest medical school dean [in the country] when I started the job, and I haven’t gotten any younger,” Berman says. “It’s been a great run, but it’s time to step back and let somebody else do the day-to-day part of it.”

Vice dean Peter Bates will serve as interim dean during the search for Berman’s replacement to run the 500-employee medical school. Bates joined Tufts this summer from the Maine Medical Center, where he worked with Berman on a program that aims to spur budding doctors to launch practices in rural areas.


Berman, who started his career as a primary care doctor, has become a legend in New England’s medical circles. He helped to pioneer the HMO-style of health insurance through the launch of the Matthew Thornton Health Plan, now part of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, in Nashua. He later ran Tufts Health Plan as its chief executive, growing its membership from nearly 60,000 people in 1986 to more than 1 million when he left 17 years later.

He has been involved with Tufts Medical School for another 17 years. He found that working on fund-raising at the school to be far more satisfying than he expected, which is probably why he’s going to be heading back to the development office to hit more prospective owners up for dollars. He’ll also help coach newer deans at Tufts.

“I’m glad when I drive to work,” Berman says. “I say, ‘I’m so lucky I have a place to go today.’ I can’t imagine sitting at home, being retired.”

Cluster concept making impact at UMass Boston

UMass Boston interim chancellor Katherine Newman is finding that her cluster concept is gaining some serious momentum. The idea, launched in the spring, brings executives from a particular industry to the Dorchester campus for a half day to review the school’s curriculum and discuss innovations affecting their sector with the faculty. Students also get a chance to interact with the businesspeople. On Tuesday, the campus hosted leaders of computer and data science firms.


But the biggest of these events could be happening on Thursday, when the focus will be on banking. Among those scheduled to attend: f ormer SBLI chief executive Bob Sheridan, Roxann Cooke of Chase, Kathy Thurman of Eastern, Colleen Balboni of Rockland Trust, Barry Sloane and Linda Sloane Kay of Century Bank, and Dan Forte of the Mass. Bankers Association.

Newman says the clusters are leading to job opportunities for UMass Boston students. “Industry leaders are taking a close look at the diverse talent we are developing on campus,” Newman says. “Building bridges to Boston’s most vibrant . . . employers is a critical mission for this university.”

Citizens, musician merge talents in ad campaign

Questlove has had a varied career so far: drummer, actor, author, website founder, talk-show personality, Broadway musical producer.

Now the musician can add another line to his resume: bank pitchman.

He has teamed with Citizens Bank as part of the Providence company’s first branding campaign in years. He wrote a song for the “Made Ready” campaign, and appears in a new TV ad. He also hyped the bank last month at a launch party at his alma mater, the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. You may have also noticed the campaign at South Station: Citizens has packed the place with banner ads.


The bank and Questlove (birth name: Ahmir Khalib Thompson) first connected this past spring. The Roots co-frontman has signed on to help with the launch of the “Made Ready” campaign, though it’s unclear how long his affiliation with the bank will last. “I think it’s been quite effective,” chief marketing officer Beth Johnson says. “The story resonates, the way his journey matched up with the point of our campaign.”

Chief executive Bruce Van Saun says the bank regularly promotes certain kinds of products or services. But this is the first one Citizens has done to promote the Citizens brand for the entire company since before its 2015 initial public offering. “The feedback from inside the bank is off the charts, and from the customers who have seen it,” Van Saun says.

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