Owned by Nestlé, Stouffer’s offers frozen classic American comfort dishes such as meatloaf, lasagna, chicken parmesan, spaghetti with meatballs, and macaroni and cheese. But Stouffer’s history is bigger than frozen food: The company started as a dairy stand, became a popular chain of restaurants, and even opened hotels. Here are 10 things you might not know about Stouffer's.
1. IT STARTED AS A CREAMERY AND DAIRY STAND IN 1914 …
In 1914, Abraham Stouffer and his father, James, opened the Medina County Creamery in Medina, Ohio. The same year, they also opened a dairy stand at Sheriff Street Market in Cleveland to sell their buttermilk and cheese products. Two years later, Abraham and his wife, Lena, moved to Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, to manage the creamery.
2. … AND TURNED INTO A COFFEE SHOP AND RESTAURANT IN OHIO.
In 1922, Abraham and Lena turned their dairy stand into a mini coffee shop, selling coffee, cheese sandwiches, and Lena’s Dutch apple pies. In 1924, they opened a full-fledged restaurant, called Stouffer Lunch, on East 9th Street in Cleveland. Stouffer Lunch served five sandwiches for about a quarter each.
3. STOUFFER’S SONS HELPED OPEN MORE RESTAURANTS OUTSIDE OHIO.
Vernon Stouffer, a recent graduate of Wharton, had helped his parents open Stouffer Lunch's first location. Along with his brother, Gordon Stouffer, who joined the family business in 1929, he helped his parents expand their restaurant business. They went public that year as The Stouffer Corporation and by 1937, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New York City got their own Stouffer’s restaurants.
4. IT GOT INTO FROZEN FOOD TO SATISFY CUSTOMERS’ DESIRE FOR TAKE OUT.
In 1946, Stouffer’s got into the frozen food business after customers at one of Stouffer’s Cleveland restaurants asked the restaurant manager to freeze the dishes so they could take them home and reheat them later. The frozen take-out component of the restaurant’s business became so popular that customers could bypass the restaurant and go next door to buy frozen Stouffer’s entrees at their 227 Club.
5. STOUFFER’S ONCE OWNED A PENTHOUSE RESTAURANT IN NEW YORK CITY.
Stouffer’s restaurants expanded from locations in Cleveland and the midwest to the east coast, and the chain also opened restaurants at the top of tall buildings and towers in Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York. In the penthouse of 666 5th Avenue in New York—just a block north of St. Patrick's Cathedral—Stouffer’s opened a restaurant in 1958 called Top of the Sixes. People reportedly went to the restaurant more for the view than the food (one restaurant reviewer in the '70s wrote "My 'beef stroganoff' was a Swiss steak on noodles reminiscent of a hundred airline meals''), and Stouffer’s eventually sold the restaurant in 1992.
6. STOUFFER’S BECAME A SUCCESSFUL HOTEL CHAIN.
Stouffer’s branched out into the hotel business in 1960. After buying the Anacapri Inn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Stouffer’s opened hotels everywhere from Nashville to St. Louis, Indianapolis to Houston, Chicago to Los Angeles. The company was acquired in the late 1960s and again in the early 1970s, and Nestlé sold Stouffer Hospitality Group (the hotels and restaurants division of the company) to a hotel conglomerate in the mid-'90s.
7. STOUFFER’S ALSO HAS A CONNECTION TO PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL.
In 1966, Vernon Stouffer bought the Cleveland Indians. Although the baseball team had won the World Series in 1920 and 1948, the team didn’t win much or attract big crowds in the 1960s. Stouffer considered moving the team from Cleveland to New Orleans, but his plans didn’t pan out. In 1972, he sold the team to a Cleveland sports businessman, Nick Mileti, who already owned two Cleveland teams, including the Cavaliers.
8. ASTRONAUTS LOVE STOUFFER’S.
Stouffer's isn’t exactly space food, but NASA fed Stouffer’s to astronauts who had just arrived back on Earth and were in a mandatory quarantine. Astronauts on Apollo 11, 12, 13, and 14 ate Stouffer’s foods during their quarantines (which lasted for at least 2 weeks), and Stouffer’s proudly touted the endorsement in their advertisements.
9. LEAN CUISINE IS A LOWER CALORIE VERSION OF STOUFFER’S.
Eventually, Stouffer’s wanted to reach customers who were concerned with the amount of calories in their frozen entrees. In 1981, the company started selling Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine, a line of lower calorie and lower fat versions of Stouffer’s frozen entrees. Lean Cuisine was an immediate hit, and the frozen food line continues to offer a variety of cuisines—Mexican, Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, and American—to calorie-conscious consumers.
10. APPLEBEE’S SUED STOUFFER’S OVER SKILLET SENSATIONS.
In 1996, the casual-dining restaurant chain Applebee’s introduced a line of dishes called Skillet Sensations, a name Stouffer's began using the following year for a line of their own frozen entrees. Stouffer's applied to trademark the term in 1997, which Applebee's opposed, and in 2003, Applebee’s officially sued Nestlé over their continued use of the name. The two companies settled the lawsuit, and Nestlé renamed their products as Stouffer’s Skillets by 2005.