February 7, 2007

Stouffer's

And the husband and wife behind the brand are...
Abraham and Mahala Stouffer

As they reached their middle years Abraham and Mahala Stouffer decided to leave their creamery business in Medina, Ohio and move north to the big city - Cleveland. It was the beginning of a long and fortuitous bonding between city and family.

The Stouffers opened a small stand-up dairy counter in 1922 in an arcade in the downtown area. The counter featured wholesome buttermilk, fresh-brewed coffee and three types of sandwiches. The star of the menu was Mahala Stouffer’s deep-dish Dutch apple pies. The little stand was an immediate hit.

Two years later the Stouffer’s son Vernon, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, returned to Cleveland and helped the Stouffers open their first full-service restaurant. The Stouffer Lunch, housed in the Citizen’s Building, used the same formula of clean, fresh-tasting ingredients that made the dairy stand a success.

The restaurant’s popularity spawned new eateries in Detroit and Pittsburgh. Growth continued even during the Depression; by 1937 the family had opened their first restaurant in New York City. Big city dwellers could always count on a respite from the impersonal urban life at the restaurants where they came to recognize the family motto: “Everybody is somebody at Stouffer’s.”

After World War II the Stouffer formula of locating in major cities changed rapidly with the times. Stouffer restaurants and inns followed families relocating in the suburbs. Again the Stouffers used Cleveland as their base, opening their first suburban restaurant in the Shaker Square area of Cleveland.

It was here that manager Wally Blankinship began filling customer requests by freezing popular menu items, like Macaroni & Cheese and Spinach Souffle, to take home. At the time the typical frozen dinner consisted of peas, potatoes and a few small pieces of meat. Blankinship realized the potential of a higher quality frozen food and sold items at a retail outlet called the 227 Club located adjacent to the restaurant. Suddenly, the Stouffer family was in the frozen food business.

In 1954 Stouffer Foods Corporation began, again in downtown Cleveland, to turn out distinctive frozen dishes. The food was always at the core of Stouffer businesses. Near the end of his career Vernon, who became president of the family firm, conceded that he was often more comfortable in the kitchen than the office. His Cleveland suburban home featured two kitchens, marked “His” and “Hers.”

NASA selected Stouffer’s products to feed quarantined Apollo 11, 12 and 14 astronauts following their landmark trips to the moon. Stouffer’s advertising proudly claimed, “Everybody who’s been to the moon is eating Stouffer’s.” It was a long way from Medina, Ohio.

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