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.
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”
I now live in Independence, LA, and every time I come to Pittsburgh to visit my family, I either bring a small ice chest, or buy one…and load up on chipped ham and sauce. My daughter and I look forward to it every time we come to PA.
I used to deliver the morning news paper when I was in high school and when I was done I would stop in isaly's down town new castle for a hot cup of coffee...
I live in Mansfield, Ohio. When I was a kid in the 60s, there were several Isaly’s Stores in town. We even had an Isaly’s Dairy Plant in town. My wife’s Grandmother worked as a waitress at an Isaly’s store. I sure miss those good ham sandwiches. I liked my ham fried and served on a toasted bun with Heinz Spicy Brown Mustard.
My most vivid memory of Isaly's was when I was eleven or twelve and I was given money to go get a pound of chipped ham. Mind you I lived in the projects in New Kensington and it was a very dangerous neighborhood. I was chased by three or four of the neighborhood boys for the money I had, I ran as fast as I could down to 5th avenue and ran into an Isaly's and asked for help I was being robbed. The counter clerk stood in front of the door and waited for them to come in and try to rob me. They did not, he stood there until they left. He gave me an ice cream and told me to wait a while until things settled down. I waited a half hour and purchased the chipped ham and a loaf of bread. I thanked the gentleman and headed home. Wouldn't you know that they were waiting around the corner for me and beat the living daylights out of me and took the food and left me lying there. Needless to say when I came home empty handed, I also got the crap beat out of me.Didn't eat that night and had a broken nose and some ribs and punished for letting them rob me.Good times in good old New Kensington.
I was a student at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania in the mid-1960's. The town had an Isaly's, and my friend Neil and I would go there regularly for the chipped ham sandwiches and especially the ice cream. As I recall they had a special scoop for their ice cream cones and there was some sort of guarantee that the ice cream wouldn't fall out of the cone. They also made corned beef sandwiches out of canned corned beef, and because I as a New Jersey native was raised on delicatessen corned beef I savored these as the closest I could get to what I had at home.
Isaly's chipped ham is like the best childhood memories between 2 slices of bread!
I grew up in Beaver Falls, PA and going downtown to Isaly’s was quite the treat for my sisters and I. Mom and dad would pile us in the car, pick up my grandma and aunt, and away we would go. I remember hot fudge sundaes, and banana splits. We wouldn’t leave without getting a pound of chipped ham to take home. My mom was originally from Jeannette, PA and when we would go back to visit her family we would stop at the shop there! What memories!
My Dad was employed by Isaly's, starting in the early days with the horses. I grew up on Isaly milk and you cannot get that good tasting milk today in Atlanta. What a treat it was to go to Isaly’s in Youngstown for lunch and a skyscraper ice cream cone plus visit with my Dad, plus a very special Aunt and Uncle who were also employed there. We still bring back chipped chopped ham when we go back to Youngstown for a visit. HMMMMMM HMMMMM GOOD! Yes, I certainly have many fond memories.
I’m 57 years old but still have the fondest memories of stopping by Isaly’s in Marion, Ohio, to get a nickel cone. The family favorite was rainbow ice cream…NOT sherbet, but ice cream! No one can duplicate it or ever will. And, yes, the chipped ham was to die for! Another memory was as a Brownie Scout touring the factory in Marion to watch Klondikes being dipped into the vat of chocolate and then having one to eat at the end of the tour. I really miss the store, especially because I believe Marion was the home of the business and founder.
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!!