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Interview: Alan Elmer Sr. 

President of Elmer's Fine Foods Inc.

click to enlarge Alan Elmer Sr. of Elmer's Fine Foods.

Alan Elmer Sr. of Elmer's Fine Foods.

Alan Elmer is part of the fifth generation of Millers and Elmers to run the locally founded, owned and operated snack company. Originally founded as a candy company in 1855, it created the Mint Bubblet, Fruit Bubblet and Gold Brick. In 1963, Elmer's Candy Corporation was sold off, and Elmer's Fine Foods focuses on CheeWees cheese curls, with a bacon flavor to be released soon.

Is it tough getting your local products onto the shelves of national retailers?

Elmer: Surprisingly, we do a good business with Dollar General. We'd like to get into more of those types of stores because the more we can put our products in those type of stores, the more people who shop from New Orleans in those discount stores can find our products. And that's important. We don't want to be in only the Rouses and Winn-Dixie. We want to be in all of the stores. We're trying right now and it's hard. ... A lot of these companies have an attitude where (they) don't really deal with local companies. They only deal with the mega guys, but ... you try to explain to them that people want local products. They want Hubig's pies, they want our products, they want local.

A 1947 article from The Times-Picayune suggests using Chee Wees to add flavor to dishes. Do you know of any recipes using Chee Wees?

E: I've had people who tell me they use them in certain types of casseroles and things, but nothing really in particular. The reason is because it's a cornmeal-based product and it's baked. Whenever the product gets into a moisture mix it really gets soft quick, unlike the green bean casseroles with fried onions on them and stuff like that. People have tried to put the Chee Wees on top of stuff like that but they get soft quick and you have to eat it right away. You almost have to do like you do a salad where you put the croutons in when you are ready to serve it.

Legend has it that the sons of Augustus Elmer, Christopher Miller's son-in-law, invented the cheese curl. Can you please share that story?

E: They were the third generation to run the business, which ran into a lot of trouble during the Depression like most businesses did. Eventually they developed some products to help them survive the Depression and after the Depression and a few of those products are now famous. ... They developed the Chee Wee product and actually had the rights to it as a mass-produced cheese curl product. And as a matter of fact, in the 1950s when Frito-Lay wanted to make their version of the same product, the Cheetos, they were required to pay the Elmer Candy Company to manufacture them. — Megan Braden-Perry


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