Any list of notable, gone-but-not-forgotten, Michigan restaurants should include Stouffer’s. Long before the company became a frozen food empire, in 1946, it was first famous for its creameries and restaurants; opening its first Detroit establishment, in 1929. Mom was such a fan of their products, she imitated at least 32 of their offerings.
‘Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery.’ – Charles Caleb Colton
Dictionary.com says, “to imitate someone is to pay the person a genuine compliment…” However, not everyone takes it as such. I’ve discussed this subject in a few of my blog posts, previously. Stouffer’s company wasn’t a very big fan of Mom’s imitations and didn’t consider them flattery, as they threatened her with lawsuits to cease and desist.
Mom considered it to be a sign that her imitations of their products were spot on. However, they were just baseless threats, as Mom didn’t know what their secret recipes actually contained. Nevertheless, she could determine by examining and tasting the products what may be in them.
On the other hand, the Sanders Candy Company (now owned by Kar’s Nuts), which is still famous for its delectable sundae toppings and chocolate treats, was also a legendary company that once had an enjoyable eatery in Detroit, serving more than just ice cream sodas and other sweet treats.
Mom loved going there, when she was young, to eat at their lunch counter. She developed at least 56 imitations from them, as well as some special friendships with the Sanders family, who were actually flattered by Mom’s replications.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, Marysville, MI; June 1997, p. 38)
FRED SANDERS WAS BORN in Biehl, Baden (Germany) in 1848 and brought to this country at the age of one… His father, a baker, settled his family in Peru, Illinois and it was there that Frederick learned his first baking lessons, after school and in the evenings. But his hopes went beyond what he viewed as the prosaic business of baking white bread and rolls.
At 17 years, he sailed for Germany to learn the secrets of confectionery and catering. With passport in hand, personally signed by William Seward, Secretary of State in the Lincoln Cabinet, he worked his way across the Atlantic as a ship’s baker.
He learned his trade rapidly in Karlsruhe. Within three years he opened his own small shop on a narrow street in Frankfurt. The shop prospered but his young wife, Rosa, wanted to return with him to America; where, after less than successful experiences in Philadelphia and Chicago, including being burned out by the great Chicago fire of 1871, Frederick finally came to Detroit.
They started all over again. With some misgivings, he opened the shop on the northeast corner of Woodward and State Streets – where the J. L. Hudson’s block was to rise later. With limited capital drained to outfit his shop, Frederick managed a loan from W. H. Edgar, founder of Edgar’s Sugarhouse.
Within a year, Frederick’s products were recognized as quality and he moved across Woodward, just north of Michigan Avenue, where he remained for many years and prospered. He created the first ‘soda’ as we know it today – and by accident, when some sweet cream softened. It was an instant success.
Once… a fan he used to cool his foods continually broke down. He called for someone to service the fan, which contained one of the first electric motors made. The electric shop sent over a young man to repair Mr. Sanders’ fan, and it is of interest to note that the young man’s name was Henry Ford.
He fixed the fan – and it ‘stayed fixed’ – without causing Mr. Sanders any further interruptions in business. Frederick Sanders brought his son-in-law, John Miller, into the business in 1900, taking him away from Colonel Goebel, the Detroit brewer. With this, the Sanders Company’s success was certainly charted.
Concurrently, the business became a partnership, shortly after the founder’s death in 1913, when John Miller and Frederick’s son, Edwin, and his grandson became the company’s chief officers and owners. In 1970, Sanders had more than 50 of their own stores and over 300 departments in supermarkets.
Bill Knapp’s was a restaurant and bakery chain that started in the 1940s, in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was once a popular family dining destination. Mom imitated at least seven of their dishes. Unfortunately, trying to continue making from-scratch recipes for their patrons’ ever changing tastes proved to be fatal for them; the last restaurant closed in 2002. Mom imitated over a half dozen of their signature dishes.
Schuler’s is another old Michigan restaurant chain. Most notably known as Win Schuler’s, they were family owned and operated since 1909. They still have one restaurant left in Marshall, Michigan where it all began. After Win passed away in 1982, his son, Hans, took over and shortened the company name to Schuler’s. Mom imitated about a dozen of their dishes.
The Sign of the Beefcarver (originally called The Beefeater) was once a popular chain of cafeteria-style restaurants that served comfort foods like hand-carved roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, in an early American themed atmosphere. It also has one restaurant left standing, in Royal Oak, Michigan, where Mom grew up. She imitated almost a dozen of their dishes, as well.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out at Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sept. 1978; p. 2)
TAKING THE MONOTONY OUT OF MEALTIME
YOU DON’T HAVE TO know exactly how the original dish was prepared by the commercial food chains. All you need is a basic recipe to which you will add that ‘special seasoning’ or that ‘secret method of preparation’ that sets one famous secret recipe apart from those similar to it…
When I work to duplicate a recipe so that the finished product is as good as (if not better than) a famous restaurant dish, I begin by asking myself a series of questions: I want to know what color the finished dish has…[and] was it achieved by baking, frying or refrigeration?…What specific flavors can I identify?… and about how much of each may have been used…
Similar tests are used in chemistry…[to]…break down the components of an unknown substance and try to rebuild it. So the cook must work like a chemist (and not like a gourmet, who, most of the time, never uses a recipe – but, rather, creates one.)
The most remarkable part of the duplication of famous recipes is that you can accept the challenge to ‘try’ to match their [dish or product]. Sometimes, you will be successful. Sometimes you will fail in the attempt.
But, at least, it can be done [‘practice makes perfect’], and it certainly takes the monotony out of mealtime when, for reasons of financial inadequacy, we cannot always eat out…even if we could afford to eat at all or most of our meals away from home, wouldn’t that become monotonous in time?
For a trip down Memory Lane of more nostalgic nosheries, check out These are Michigan’s 12 Most Iconic Restaurants, by Amy Sherman (updated: July 9, 2020). It’s a great article I found on mlive.com. Also see Nine Long-Gone Restaurants In Michigan by Sophie Boudreau (Nov. 11, 2017), on OnlyInYourState.com/MI.
In honor of TODAY, being National Ambrosia Day, here is Mom’s copycat recipe for Marshmallow Ambrosia Salad; as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 48). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
December observes, among other things… National Pear Month, National Write A Business Plan Month, National Operation Santa Paws (which runs the 1st-24th), National Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month, National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, Worldwide Food Service Safety Month, National Human Rights Month, and Universal Human Rights Month!
December 14th is… National Bouillabaisse Day and National Alabama Day! Plus, it’s the start of… Christmas Bird Count Weeks, a 3-week celebration that always starts on the 14th and runs through January 5th; as well as Halcyon Days – a 2-week celebration, always 7 days before and 7 days after the Winter Solstice (which is the 14th-28th for 2022)!
December 16th is… National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day! Plus, as the third Friday in December, it’s also… National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day and Underdog Day! Additionally, it’s the start of Las Posadas (a 9-day celebration, always on the 16th-24th).
December 17th is… National Maple Syrup Day! [NOTE: Michigan celebrates the process of making maple syrup in March.] Plus, as the third Saturday in December, it’s also… National Wreaths Across America Day! Additionally, it’s… Saturnalia Week (which is always the 17th-23rd).
December 18th is… National Twin Day and National Roast Suckling Pig Day! Today is also when Chanukah Begins – which changes annually (December 18th-26th for 2022)! Plus, it’s the start of… Gluten-free Baking Week (which is always the 18th-24th).
…50 down and 2 to go!