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. 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”
Almost every Saturday my Aunt Ann and I would ride the bus to downtown Pittsburgh to shop in “town”. On our way home we would always get off the bus near the Bloomfield Isaly’s. We ended our shopping days with chocolate milkshakes and cheese crackers. How I loved those trips and looked forward to that milkshake!
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!
When I was a child about 6 years old,1950, I met Mrs. Isaly. I lived in Youngstown, Ohio and my Uncle was in charge of maintenance at the Isaly factory. My dad and I went through the factory and they had a machine that made Klondike ice cream bars. At that time Klondike bars were chocolate covered ice cream with a wooden stick in them. I now noticed that all Klondike bars consist of chocolate covered ice cream without the stick. Do the stick versions still exist?
My husband worked at the Isaly's store in South Hills Village in the 70's. I walked in there with a friend to buy chipped ham and a cone and it was love at first sight. Sounds silly, but here we are married 42 years and have 2 sons and a beautiful family. Every year that we are blessed with an anniversary, we celebrate with Isaly's chipped ham sandwiches and a Klondike with our family. We miss the skyscraper Whitehouse cone. What a tradition Isaly's is for our family, and what a blessing walking into the Isaly's store to meet the love of my life and best husband and father ever. Praying we win the train set, what a part of our yearly celebration this would make for our family. Thank you Isaly's for all the years of tradition you have been part of in our family. Happy New Year!
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.
The Isaly's I went to was on Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver Borough of Pittsburgh. Two school friends worked there. I loved Rainbow ice cream, the taste and the pink, cream, and green of it. Just this morning I read a funny column in THE WASHINGTON POST about "when exactly it all went wrong" and I knew the answer. Gold star. I have been saying for years now that it "all went wrong when they closed Isaly's." This reason covers a lot of disappointing territory. In short order, it seems, they closed my high school, my grade school, my church. That did a good job of obliterating my childhood, but it started with Isaly's closing. I was no longer living in Pittsburgh and hadn't been for years when it happened. Just this New Year's Day, 2016, my son, whose childhood memory at his grandmother's house also includes chipped chopped ham lunches, arrived here in Vienna, VA, bringing chipped chopped ham from a local supermarket. I was also delighted to see a tribute by the mystery writer, Martha Graham. She wrote a funny book about the publishing industry in 2004 titled FOUL MATTER in which a young man named Isaly visits Pittsburgh and the store. Pistachio is the flavor named specifically, if I remember correctly. My husband from Texas also remembers the Big Isaly in Oakland.
When I was a little boy my grandparents lived on Welsford Street in Oakland, PA. I have fond memories of my grandfather and I walking to the Isaly’s on the Boulevard of the Allies for a huge ice cream cone. We would then walk across the street to a small park and sit on the park bench where granddad would enjoy his pipe while I savored my ice cream cone.
Mention Isaly’s to an Independence, Ohio resident and the first thing they’ll say is “Chipped Chopped Ham!” But for me, Isaly’s was more than ham and the skyscraper ice cream cone. Working at the Independence, Ohio Isaly’s was my part-time job from 1967 – 1969. I wore a plain white uniform which I hemmed so short that my mother secretly dropped the hem to a more respectable length. I learned to be a short order cook on the run. Eggs “Sunny Side Up” were especially daunting to me – on one morning I broke 9 yolks before the manager threatened to charge me for the next one. I always felt I had the best job in Independence. Isaly’s was the hangout for all the cool kids from school. Everybody stopped by for a Coke and a little bit of gossip. I often asked to be scheduled for Sunday mornings just to see Ron Chojnacki who, having ditched church, sauntered into Isaly’s with a big cigar and the morning newspaper. At 17, he was a year older than I and so mature! Those Sunday mornings must have meant something to both of us. We reconnected 41 years later and have been dating ever since.
My grandparents use to own the Isaly's in Irwin PA and I have so many good memories of making the donuts and selling all the good products.
Isaly's chipped ham is like the best childhood memories between 2 slices of bread!