The History of Isaly’s

The Making of a Family Tradition

The story begins in 1833 when Swiss cheesemaker, Christian Isaly and his family crossed the seas with his family to join other Swiss settlers in the picturesque hills of Monroe County, Ohio. Packed with their belongings was Isaly’s most precious possession: his copper cheese kettle.

Generations of Isalys carried on the family trade, expanding from cheese making to dairy farming, and delivering bottled milk from house to house in horse-drawn carts. Eventually they formed Isaly’s Dairy Companies to sell farm-fresh dairy products and a wide variety of fresh deli meats and cheeses through Isaly’s own chain of retail stores in Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

A tradition was born as families streamed in on warm summer evenings for the now legendary “Skyscraper” cones, butter, cheese, baked ham and bologna and, of course, Isaly’s signature Chipped Chopped Ham and Old Fashioned Ice Cream.

See below for images from Brian Butko’s The Story of Isaly’s: Klondikes, Chipped Ham, & Skyscraper Cones. To learn more about the history of Isaly’s, please visit Brian Butko’s website
  • Swiss dairy farm scene that hung in Isaly’s stores. Photo Gaylord LaMond.

  • The famous copper cheese kettle was displayed for years at various Isaly’s plants. Photo William R. Isaly.

  • George Krohe at the Homewood Isaly’s, east of Pittsburgh, in 1932. From left: Helen Hartley, Jim Wilson, Krohe, and Sue Phieffer. Photo George Krohe.

  • Painted signs at Marion indicated that the rear buildings were part of the plant. William R. Isaly

  • Pamela Grell believes that this is the first day of the Skyscraper scoop, designed by her father, Sam Jennings. Store supervisor Carl Rafoth is scooping the cones at the Youngstown plant salesroom while Grell’s dad watches (at Rafoth’s right). Photo Pamela Grell.

  • Pittsburgh-branch stores aimed for a modern, uniform look. Here, the Canonsburg Isaly’s store-front shows off trendy art deco lettering. Photo Mrs. Ralph M. McAfee.

Click here to view historical Isaly’s clips from WQED, voiced by Rick Sebak.

The Tradition Goes On

In the 1980’s, after the Isaly family retired, the baton was passed to long time provisioners and friends, the Deily family. After much success, the brand changed hands once more in 2015 when Tim Deily sold it to food industry veterans Jim and Leslee Conroy, owners of Conroy Foods, Inc. The Conroys have been in the food business since 1986, building Beano’s Original Deli Condiments from a restaurant in Blawnox, PA of the same name. Tim trusted the Conroy family to carry on the incredible legacy of quality associated with the name Isaly’s–keeping the brand, in essence, “all in the family.” Under the Conroys, Isaly’s deli products have met steady demand in food chains and independent stores all over Southwest Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and beyond by remaining passionately committed to preserving Isaly’s original recipes and quality.

Today’s Isaly’s Nation

Once a fan, always a fan! Isaly’s Nation exists here in Pittsburgh and around the country. Aside from your favorite grocery store, you can get an Isaly’s chipped ham sandwich at Heinz Field or grab a scoop of Isaly’s Whitehouse Cherry ice cream at PNC Park. People who’ve moved away from Isaly’s Nation make a point of taking Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham back to their new hometowns. Pittsburgh Steeler Clubs around the country have Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham shipped in for big games. And people who live where Isaly’s is sold just keep going back for more -not just Isaly’s Original Chipped Chopped Ham and Barbecue Sauce but Old Fashioned Ice Cream and a whole line of Isaly’s Deli Hams, Turkey, and Cheeses. Did you “Remember Isaly’s” when you shopped this week?

  • Grab an Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham Sandwich at Heinz Field while cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Pitt Panthers! The stand is located in the Fed Ex Great Hall between sections 101 and 106.

  • Treat yourself to a scoop of Isaly’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream while you root for the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park! Flavors include Isaly’s original Whitehouse Cherry and Maricopa (butterscotch) as well as other delicious fan favorites. Find us at the Sweet Spot, located in Section 119.

  • Martino’s on Vine, a Steeler’s bar in Cincinnati, ready to watch a playoff game complete with some Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham and barbecue sauce.

“I Remember Isaly’s”

Every Friday my mother ordered breaded haddock from the Irwin Isaly's which was owned and operated by Art Lewis. It was the best tasting breaded fish we have ever eaten and to this day I can still remember the delicious taste.

DARLENE HURTIG Cockeysville, Md

I remember visiting our grandparents in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1950s. On a summer evening, we’d all get in the car and drive to Isaly’s for an ice cream cone. I always got maricopa ice cream. Those were great memories.

Linda Stutler

Back in the 60's, when I was in Junior High (we didn't call it Middle School back then), my dad and I would often go to his office downtown in the afternoon. He'd work and I'd just poke around downtown. A 14 year old kid could do that safely back then. On the ride home, we'd pass an Isaly's in Mount Lebanon, and stop for a Maricopa skyscraper to eat in the car on the way home. That was our secret. We never told my mother about it.

George Erdner Duluth, GA

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. The kids in the neighborhood repeated that mantra whenever the ice cream truck arrived with sounds of nursery rhymes announcing its arrival. Kids begged to go to Isalys for ice cream, saying they were screaming for it. During an exchange of emails, Cynthia and I shared some stories from days gone by, back when we were high school friends. I told her how Mom and I wrapped Klondikes in dry ice to take them to Chicago, whenever we flew there to visit with my Uncle Carl and Aunt Betty. The senses are powerful tools for triggering memories. Memory sense impressions help to store memories. The efficiency of human memory recall is astonishing. Just the sight of those Klondike ice cream squares conjures up memories from past enjoyments. Unwrapping the foil that covered the bars signaled a delight was on the way. The smell and taste, starting with the texture of the chocolate coating, then the smooth vanilla ice cream, led to sounds of enjoyment. Relax and remember past memories by concentrating on the senses used at the time, coupled with the emotions of the events. Discover a fascinating journey to the land of memories, especially when you compare them to the memories you are creating today, for tomorrow. The brands have changed, my interests have changed, and times have changed. Sense memories have probably magnified the positive effects of the ice cream bar. However, I’ll always enjoy the memory of I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Isaly's ice cream!

Marcia Casar Friedman

Being from Elizabeth Pa. My Mom and I would take the bus to McKeesport, Pa area for a day of shopping at the departments for clothes etc. The bus would let us off right in front of Islaly's and of course we would be ready for our chipped ham barbecue sandwich. Then we stopped at Isaly's for desert on the way home. Mom would have a cup of coffee and I always got a glacier ice cream cone. Since the bus would pick us up right in front of Isaly's This was my memory of shopping with my Mom and lunch at Isaly's with my Mom. Mom would make them at least once a month. After moving to Calif. My own return home trip would include a few pounds to take home to California Because the markets don't know how to cut the chipped ham cut. Amen?

Cyndi Schreven palm Springs.Ca

I used to live in West View. Isaly's was part of everyone's lives and definitely serves as a time capsule of sorts to my life. My sister was partial to Maricopa! I always make it a point to swing by on my visits home to stock up on ham salad, chopped ham and Mancini's bread. I love the retro feel. So home!

Mandi Detroit Michigan

There once was an Isaly’s located in Columbus Ohio, on the corner of Mt. Vernon Ave. and 20th. My Grandmother, Sarah Bishop, used to walk my two brothers and myself down there once a week and allow us to order what we wanted. I used to always order a slice of a chocolate ice cream roll up cake. Once it was sliced it looked like a chocolate pin wheel. It was the richest chocolate with the creamiest ice cream in the center. I don’t care to do a commercial but I do want you to know how thrilled I am that Isaly’s still exists. I am 65 years of age now, but the name “Isaly’s” triggers wonderful and endearing memories.

Veronica Turner

Hi, I am 64 years old now and remember going to Charleroi, Pa to visit grandma and grandpa and always got a trip to Isaly's Ice Cream parlor. Loved your ice cream. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. but my parents moved to Michigan in 1963. I look every time we go back and visit but can't find any near Vandergrift where relatives live now. Just wanted to tell you loved your ice cream and chipped ham sandwiches, No one in Michigan knew what chipped ham was when we moved here. thank you for the memory Debi Devine

Debi (Horton) Devine

I was born and raised in Titusville, PA. In the mid sixties I worked at the bank across the street from Isaly’s. Every morning before work a few of us “regulars” would meet for coffee at Isaly’s. I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area for 44 years now. I really miss my small town days and Isaly’s is a particularly good memory. Ice cream, chip chopped ham with BBQ sauce, dill pickles! I would kill for a chip chopped ham sandwich with BBQ sauce!!

Barbara Edwards Martinez

Isaly's ice cream cone came to a point at the top. They were the tallest an the best ice cream cone I ever have eaten. I'm from Pittsburgh Pa. my husband and I take her grandchildren as we did our children to the old Isaly's in Oakland show them the building and told them all the stories of how our parents brought us to Isaly's to get our pointing ice cream cone and how is the sit out in the parking lot and look over to the J&L steel mall below to eat our ice cream. That was always our family outing...

Gail Jones Latham Reading Pa

Share your Own Isaly’s Memory