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”
We lived near the Isaly’s in Bethel Park, PA. My mom, step-brother and myself would go in on a Saturday and wait in a long line for chipped ham and all the other foods Isaly’s sold that was so good. I think we got a pink free klondike once. As we rounded the bend waiting to get to the counter my eyes got so big looking at all the goodies on the shelves. Also, my Mom and I would go down to Isaly’s get our Skyscraper ice cream cones and park the car in the parking lot and watch the South Park drive-in movie. My grandparents and I would go in when I was little, sit at the tables, and eat our ice cream. My grandma would get rainbow and I know I would almost always get chocolate chip, my favorite.
We used to walk from our home on Fifth Ave. to what we called “the big Isaly’s” on the Blvd. If my mom had the money we’d get a chipped ham sandwich and take it to the park and spend the day. Or we’d just get ice cream and walk back home. It was the most wonderful times back in the 50′s.
As a High School Junior/senior I worked evenings and on weekends at the Youngstown, Ohio Market Street/ Indianola store. My manager was Wesley Rarer and a better mentor I could never have had. He instilled good work habits, promoting one's better traits and enhancing a personality of a retailer wanting to help and satisfy the customer's wants. This lesson of meeting the public and providing a good, desirable service was never forgotten by me as a 15/16 year old boy who was working towards making his way in life. I stayed at this job/store until I graduated from Youngstown South High School in 1951 and later went on to spend 20 years in the USAF and another 20 years working with the US Army and I continuously applied the fundamentals of life and work place habits which Wesley Rarer had taught me. Wesley is long gone and I am 81 years old but I still remember the Isaly's environment which groomed my onward positive habits which have helped me and my family thru the years.
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.
I lived on Fifth Ave in Oakland we would go to the park or Panther Hollow and on way we would stop and get chipped ham sandwich and little cartons of milk. On way home we got skyscraper ice comes. Best chipped ham ever and when I come to pittsburgh I always get some. Some of the best days ever.
I was employed at Isaly's from 1941 to 1971, in retail home delivery. I was sales manager, working under William Isaly. Great memories remain…
I grew up overseas in my childhood years because my dad was a US Diplomat but when he would be on furlough, our family of 9 (7 kids and my mom and dad) would fly up to my dad's hometown of Apollo, PA to visit granny and grandad but first stop always was Isaly's! To this day, my memories of going to Vandergrift, to get my rainbow ice cream and hearing us all shout out our flavors is so exciting! This Thursday, my 90 yr. Old Daddy and I are going to PA for him to see old friends and family and his health is not great but what is he asking about? Isaly's!
I worked at Isaly’s in Austintown, Ohio 1964. My father worked at the big Isaly’s in Youngstown, Ohio 1948. I now live in upstate NY, & I went into a hobby shop that has train models. There was a tanker with “Isaly’s” on it. I also can never spell “Isaly’s” with out saying the “I shall always love you sweetheart.” I still have my badge from Isaly’s with my name on it. I bet I could make the tallest sky scraper ice cream cone ever on earth. Good, happy memories.
I live in Florida now and have yet to meet anyone from here who has heard of chipped ham barbeque. Sounds impossible!! I grew up in New Kensington, PA, and have very fond memories of the Isaly’s on 5th Ave. I dearly loved the chipped ham and Rainbow Skyscrapers. I have got to find some chipped ham!!!
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.