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 www.brianbutko.com.
  • 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.
 

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. 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. Did you “Remember Isaly’s” when you shopped this week?
  • 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”

My family and I love the Isaly’s chipped ham. I was originally from Pittsburgh and moved to Sarasota when I was three. Over many visits to the South Hills area to see my family I realized there was something special about the ham. I loved it!!!!! I asked my grandma what was different about the ham, and she explained to me the Isaly’s story. Going forward in life my two son’s have also grown to love the ham and it is the first thing we look for on our vacation. We always bring a cooler of ham back with us to Florida and let everyone we know savor the flavor of ham barbeque!!!! 

Tara Nissen

Until I moved away from Washington, Pa. I had Islay’s Chipped Ham everyday. I ate it my entire life growing up. It wasn’t til I moved around the country that I figured out not all Chipped ham was the same!! Let alone no one else knows how to “shave” it like you!! My father still lives in Washington and every 6 months we either go up to visit or he comes down. There are only 2 things I want him to bring. 1) 5 lbs of Islay’s chipped hamand2) Sarris’ Chocolate from Cannonsburg I have to now fight of my husband and oldest child (12) to try to make the 5 lbs last past a week and a half!!My youngest (2) is like me, she loves it fried up and either as a sandwich or with scrambled eggs!!Oh HOW I MISS ISALY’S!!! Thank You for being a part of all my childhood memories!! At all family gatherings, birthdays, picnics, holidays and of course, SUPER BOWL there was ALWAYS a crock-pot full of Isaly’s BBQ chipped ham!! Come to think of it since leaving Pa. I don’t eat many cold cut sandwiches.You ARE the BEST!!! 

April Gillespie

My family always had Isaly's at reunions!

Tim Bickerton Beaver, PA

For a few years in the 1960s, I was a teen who worked after school at an Isaly's store in Akron, Ohio. With dried ice cream up to my elbows, I dug down deep into the ice cream bins to produce the 'skyscraper' cones for customers of all ages. If the cooking staff was extra busy, I made cheeseburgers on the hot huge grill located in the very front area of the store. I remember so well that it was hard work, that being on time for my shift was important and that the managers were the kindest people and the customers were the friendliest! However, I either never learned or didn't pay attention to the fact that it was family Isaly that founded the store. We young, naïve teens who were told this: Isaly's was an acronym for ' I shall always love you sweetheart.' These many decades later I find no mention of this....and I was crushed. But no matter, I will always love my very first job experiences at my neighborhood Isaly's store. Since then, with hard work, I became a senior exec at a non-profit association in Washington, DC. I still have a bowl of ice cream almost every day!

Barbara K. Reck Washington, DC

When Isaly's in Ellwood City closed, somehow my Dad was able to nab this milkshake machine. It still works! We had a cookout this evening & made milkshakes on the patio. The flavor is better than if made in a blender. Maybe it's the nostalgia I taste? The steel cup says "patent 1926".

Don Mohr North Tonawanda, NY

I live far away from Pittsburgh now, but when I was a little girl in the ’70′s, one of the best times of my week was going to Isaly's for a Sundae! My parents and I would go to church in Bellevue PA Sunday mornings, and then they would take me to Isaly’s afterward. As a teenager, my mother and I would go shopping to North Hills Village, and we would usually stop in to eat at the Isaly’s in the mall. Sometimes for dinner, sometimes for a sundae… I loved all the different flavors they had! And then when I babysat the little children next door, I used to take them to Isaly's for ice cream. These are all very precious memories!

Marianne Farabaugh

Isaly's- what a great place for the family !There were 2 Isaly's location in my hometown of Homestead, PA. When my dad got paid, we would walk to one of the 2 Isaly's stores for a special treat. Sometimes it would be a skyscraper cone, sometimes a 25 cent milkshake or a Klondike. Once in a while we would eat lunch at one of the tables- I always got a chipped ham barbecue- still love to make my own at home these days. Prices were so cheap that one day we went to Isaly's and the price of coffee had gone from five cents to seven cents- we were not wealthy. I can still hear my mother exclaiming- " Seven cents for a lousy cup of coffee" !(The lousy of course certainly did not refer to their really good coffee.) But she continued to enjoy her favorite brew there..loved it.

Karen North Ridgeville, OH

My parents, Bill and Mary Francis, owned the Isaly's Store in Minerva, Ohio. We grew up working the soda fountain and having all those ice creams, chip-chopped, Klondikes at our fingertips. My whole family was a part of the business and we learned a lot from our parents. We learned to work hard, be a member of the community and strive to be the best.

Cindy Francis Dallas, Texas

I worked at the Islay's in Clairton, Pa in the 80's. What I wouldn't give for a Rainbow Ice cream cone. Was my favorite flavor! Any chance of bringing that back? Also, if anyone has the ham salad recipe they could share that would be great!

LouAnn Goodrum White Oak

I remember going to Isaly’s on Main Street in Butler, Pennsylvania, with my Dad when I was little (I’m now 59!) We’d buy chipped chopped ham and longhorn cheese for sandwiches. Yum! I’m so excited to find that my local Giant Eagle has it!

Debbie Waggoner, Westerville, Ohio

Share your Own Isaly’s Memory