The Untold Truth Of Stouffer's

Today, national brand Stouffer's is best known for producing frozen meals found in grocery stores across the United States, but the company had a much more interesting and roundabout journey to the freezer aisle than you would expect. According to Taste, the company began in 1914 as a dairy stand and creamery in Ohio operated by James Stouffer and his son Abraham. In 1922, Abraham Stouffer and his wife, Lena Mahala, decided to branch out and open a stand at one of the nation's first indoor shopping malls: the Cleveland Arcade in downtown Cleveland. The couple originally sold fresh buttermilk and later expanded the menu to sell coffee and apple pie to hungry city shoppers.

In 1924, the Stouffers opened a full restaurant, called Stouffer's Lunch, which sold sandwiches for $0.25 or less. After a few years of success, and with the help of their sons Vernon and Gordon, the family decided to open Stouffer's locations in other cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New York. The original Stouffer's restaurants were described as mid-priced eateries with a festive, bustling environment. Dr. Richard Klein, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, said the Cleveland location was "the kind of place you could go with your grandmother or take a date to."

Stouffer's used to operate upscale restaurants in major U.S. cities

In the mid-1950's Stouffer's decided to launch a new, more ritzy group of restaurants dubbed the "Top of" collection. These restaurants were all located on top of skyscrapers, such as the Top of the Rock in Chicago's Prudential Building, the Top of the Flame in Detroit's Consolidated Gas building, and the revolving Top of the Hub in Boston's Prudential Center. Taste states that the most famous location by far was the New York City location Top of the Sixes, which sat 41 stories-up, atop a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. Top of the Sixes was well known for its spectacular views and celebrity patrons, and was even the setting of a memorable scene in memoir-turned-film Wolf of Wall Street. All of the "Top of" restaurants have now all closed, with Boston's Top of the Hub lasting the longest and closing in March of 2020. (via Boston.com)

In the 1960's, Stouffer's also had a short lived expansion into the hospitality industry, opening a series of upscale hotels and resorts. This diversity of offerings really only lasted a few years after opening the hotels, when the company decided to concentrate their focus on the increasingly profitable frozen food market.

After World War II, Stouffer's decided to begin selling food to-go

Ohio History Central states that Stouffer's frozen food division got its start after World War II, when the company began selling take-home meals out of one of their Cleveland locations. Eventually, they began to freeze some of the menu items offered to elongate the life of the to-go foods customers were requesting. By the mid-1950's, the restaurant kitchen was no longer able to keep up with demand for the frozen meals, so Stouffer's opened a processing plant devoted to the new products. In 1956, the company officially began to include frozen meals as part of their offerings and moved production into a larger facility.

In the early 1960's the company began selling these frozen meals in select grocery stores across the United States. Stouffer's was sold to Litton Industries in 1967 and then again in 1973 to the Nestle Corporation, who owns the brand today. In 1980, Stouffer's opened another frozen food plant in South Carolina, and then a third plant in Utah in 1987. Ohio History Central attributes part of Stouffer's frozen food's continued success through the 1980's to their introduction of the Lean Cuisine line, which is geared towards health conscious consumers.