Mondays & Memories of My Mom – The Family Business

Thank God it’s Monday, all over again. I personally look forward to every Monday, as they’re my 52 Chances a year, in which I get to share Memories of My Mom with you! Therefore, I always like to say, “happy Monday”.



Friday is National Mom And Pop Business Owners Day, honoring all small business owners. Similar to “Small Business Saturday” (just after Thanksgiving), this day highly encourages people to shop locally and support those small businesses that support their communities.

“Mom and Pop” businesses are renowned for offering superior customer service, compared to the large chain stores. Entrepreneurs take personal pride in in themselves and their businesses, as they’re representative of who they are and vice versa. Small business owners also have a lot of pride in their communities.

Since the earliest known brick-and-mortar stores, in the 1700s, Mom-and-Pop businesses have been a vital part of every community and, thereby, the U.S. economy, as a whole, as well. Building a business is hard work. The average lifespan of a small business is only about 8½ years.

My mom started her family business in 1973, under the name Happy Newspaper Features, with her first self-published cookbook, The Better Cooker’s Cookbook. She also sold her secret recipe imitations individually on 4×6-inch index cards. Then she started her newsletter in January of 1974.

Right from the beginning, it really was a family business, as Mom incorporated me and my siblings to help her in various ways. However, she didn’t tell Dad about it for months and all of us kids were sworn to secrecy, while she got her recipes and writing talents noticed locally (in the Detroit area), first.

She started her marketing plan with what usually worked on her, as a consumer – free samples. She sent copies of her work to newspapers and magazines. Then a television show, filmed in Detroit, heard about her unique business and wanted to interview her. We couldn’t hide it from Dad any longer.


As seen in…

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, P. 57). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).]


AFTER I HAD WALKED OUT of the newspaper editor’s office, telling him to ‘mail me my check’, I didn’t know if he had fired me or if I had quit! But to go home and start my own paper was an impulsive reaction, if not foolish. It was a nice job for a housewife with five kids.

The money wasn’t ‘good’, but it did buy the kids a few things we couldn’t otherwise afford. Paul was working as a draftsman for a sign company in Mt. Clemens and that weekly paycheck was spent on house payments, utilities and insurance even before it was cashed.

The money I earned from writing helped and I gave it up because of pride and integrity. The first thing I did with my writing, at that time, was to take all the recipes I had published in my newspaper column and all of the articles on recipes that I had sold to [magazines] and secured permission to re-print my own material in a small cookbook.

With Free Press columnist, Bob Talbert, to ‘plug’ the little book, I sold all 1,000 copies in a month! Rather than re-print it at the ‘Quickie-While-You-Wait’ printer shop, I decided I would put those recipes into a monthly publication – not exactly my own newspaper, but certainly worth the opportunity to try it and see if it would pay.

It was a good thing that I kept a complete list of names and addresses of those who wrote to me at the newspaper, requesting recipes, and all of those who purchased my first little cookbook, “The Better Cooker’s Cookbook’…

I invited each one, by post card, to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. The response was sufficiently enthusiastic to cause me to take on the commitment – but, without Paul knowing anything about it, for he surely would have put his foot down and said, ‘NO!’

Until the newsletter could pay for itself, Paul thought what I was earning was coming from the ironing I did each week for other people at $5 a basket. Since Paul worked late many nights and bowled two nights a week, he couldn’t keep an accurate account of how much ironing I really did.

What I scraped together from the ironing money, I used as a down payment on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine so that I could print my own newsletter. For nine months, I kept this from Paul; and, with our daughter Debbie’s help, put out the publication, paid off the mimeograph and saw my subscriptions reach 100 readers.

That is when I was invited to appear on Dennis Wholley’s television program, ‘AM Detroit’ on WXYZ-TV. I had to tell Paul! He took it rather calmly, I thought; but now, in retrospect, I believe he was suffering from a mild case of shock from it all.

Many times, “Mom and Pop” businesses are handed down from one generation to the next. Other small businesses are simply new start-ups. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20% of new small businesses fail in their first year and 30% fail in their second year. Half of small businesses fail by their fifth year and 70% by their 10th year.

The most common reasons for their failures include lack of capital/funding, inadequate management, faulty infrastructure or business model, and unsuccessful marketing concepts. Entrepreneurs need to focus on how they’re going to attract customers, keep them coming back for more, and inspire them to refer others.


As seen in…

My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 43)


TO MAKE THE MIMEOGRAPH pay for itself, I even printed up my own business cards on it, using dime-store construction paper and then cutting the cards apart with scissors until I had neat little stacks of about 50 and a total of two or 300 cards.

These I distributed at the mall whenever and wherever we might be in one. Paul did not know I was doing this, at first, either, or he would’ve disapproved. It was unprofessional and risky, but I thought anything was worth a try and what I could do ‘quietly’ until I could prove it was either a mistake or a benefit, would have to be my little secret.

Well, actually, the kids were a part of that secret too. I had heard an interview on TV or radio with ‘the world’s most successful salesman’, who was a Chevrolet salesman in Detroit and who believed heartily in business cards, placing them everywhere and anywhere that it was allowed.

From his story, I found it was easy to drop my card into the pocket of a bathrobe in the ladies’ wear [areas] in the department stores and in the purses and tote bags, on public phone booth stands, [in] restaurant restrooms, even in others’ cookbooks in the bookstores.

From these, you’d be surprised, we DID hear from people who wanted to know about my recipes, which was the first experience I had with public response. What I had at that time was a little book entitled ‘The Better Cookers Cookbook’ [1973], as opposed to our current popular book, ‘Better Cookery’. [1983 – the one I rewrote for Mom.]

The distribution of information on the book included my mailing a copy of it along with a letter explaining how and why it was written, to several of my favorite newspaper columnists and friends.

One, with whom I had contact on various subjects before, was Bob Talbert of the ‘Detroit Free Press’. He mentioned this little book in one of his columns as ‘for a buck-and-a-half-and-a-belly-laugh’. It worked!

In the summer of 1976, Mom and Dad self-published a special edition cookbook, called The American Cookery Cookbook. They were honored when the Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, MI) bought several copies to put in its bi-centennial collection.

Mom’s copycat recipe collection continually grew and word quickly spread about the “Secret Recipes DetectiveTM”. After dedicating every evening and weekend to help Mom with the business, Dad decided to take an early retirement from his job at the sign company to help Mom full-time. The were together 24/7, hence forth, until Dad passed away in 2014.

In January 1977, Mom totally revised her first “fast food cookbook”, as it was also called, from August 1976; changing the name (because “fast food” was shunned upon) and, thereby, creating a series of “secret recipes” cookbooks. She called “Book 1” in the new series The Secret Restaurant Recipes Book.

Later that year, having so much material with which to work, Mom was quick to follow up with “Book 2” in her series, thereby calling it The Second Helping of Secret Recipes. The hunger from her fans for more “secret recipes” continued to grow, as well.

Over the next three years, Mom published three more hits – each one unique and fresh: Eating Out At Home (aka: “Book 3”), in 1978; Top Secret Recipes Al’a Carte (aka: “Book 4”), in 1979; and The Secrets Of Homemade Groceries (aka: “Book 5”), in 1980. Their small “Mom-and-Pop” business continued successfully for over 40 years.


Between the five books, in her first series, alone, Mom had developed over 1,400 imitations from 59 diverse restaurants (from Arby’s to Yummyland), 83 grocery brand products, 22 famous hotel chains and inns, 15 favorite candies and carnival eats, 12 chain department stores/cafeterias, and 7 renowned tourist hot spots!

The growing success of Mom’s copycat cookery concept led to enormous opportunities for her, doing radio and TV talk shows all over North America; which also led to even more opportunities for her. So much so that she couldn’t release anything new in 1981.

The project she was working on at that time had to be put on hold while her family business was inundated by over a MILLION requests for what she was offering, following her FIRST appearance on the Phil Donahue Show in July of 1981.


After recovering from “Hurricane Donahue” (1981), Mom found time in 1982 to finish her postponed project from the previous year. She revised the title of her very first (1973) cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook, and came up with a whole new book that was one of her most famous copycat cookbooks ever.

[NOTE: That’s the book (1983, 3rd edition version) that I helped Mom to rewrite so it could be republished for a new digital generation of copycat cooks. Unfortunately, Mom passed away shortly after it went to print in January of 2018.]


In honor of tomorrow, being National Spinach Day, here’s Mom’s copycat recipe for “Boston Market’s Spinach Sidedish”; as seen in her self-published folder… Secret RecipesTM Bulletin #102 – Imitations of Boston Market Dishes (Secret RecipesTM, Marysville, MI; 1998).


P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…


March observes, among other things… Irish-American Heritage Month, National Caffeine Awareness Month, National Celery Month, National Craft Month, National Flour Month, National Sauce Month, and National Women’s History Month. Unofficially, March is also Maple Sugaring Month in Michigan.

Today is also… National Lobster Newburg Day.

Tomorrow is… National Nougat Day.

Wednesday, March 27th, is… National Joe Day and National Spanish Paella Day.

Thursday, March 28th, is… National Black Forest Cake Day and National Something on a Stick Day.

March 29th is… National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day and National Nevada Day. Plus, it’s… Good Friday (for 2024).

Saturday, March 30th, is… National Take a Walk in the Park Day, National I Am in Control Day, National Turkey Neck Soup Day, and National Virtual Vacation Day.

March 31st is… National Bunsen Burner Day, National Clams on the Half Shell Day, and National Tater Day. Plus, it’s… Easter Sunday (for 2024).


…13 down, 39 more to go!

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