Many people think that to see the real beauty of the United States one must travel to the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the national parks, Alaska or Hawaii. Let me tell you, there is a great deal of beauty and excitement in our own backyard (if you live in Cleveland, as I do), in Western New York and Pennsylvania. It is my job as OU RFR in those areas to travel the highways, and above all, the byways, enjoying the spectacular scenery while at the same time visiting a host of plants that are OU Kosher. Let’s take a trip together on one of my typical monthly routes.
We start in the small town of Northeast, PA. Please don’t be misled by the name. This town is actually in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. (Go figure.) Northeast has banks on every corner. Why so many? This town has an extremely high percentage of millionaires. What is the basis of their wealth? Vineyards — tens of thousands of acres of Concord grapes! Northeast is the home of Bay Valley Foods condiment division, which, by the way, has nothing to do with grapes.
Now we drive from Northeast 30 miles to Dunkirk/Fredonia, NY. All we see on both sides of the highway are vineyards. This stretch is along Lake Erie, which provides specific winds, keeping the vineyards at the exact temperature required for their growth.
The Clarion Hotel in Dunkirk is my second home. I actually registered on their computer 134 nights in three years. This hotel overlooks Lake Erie. In winter, the lake is covered with ice. In summer, it is dotted with boats. Within walking distance of this hotel are five OU plants. The aroma of peanut butter produced by Carriage House can be smelled a block away. Carriage House, a division of Ralcorp, is the behemoth condiment producer. The world headquarters of Cliffstar, the world’s largest private labeler of juices is here as well. Of course, the location of these two plants is no coincidence, as they are near the grapes, which they press.
Finally, we get to a huge yellow building. Don’t enter without a coat! This building is the 20-degree below zero freezer for Fieldbrook Farms, the huge private labeler of ice creams with a mouth-watering array of flavors.
Let’s get back into the car and drive east along the Thomas A. Dewey (New York) Thruway. Our next stop will be Perry’s Ice Cream of Akron, NY. This plant is an ice cream lover’s dream. From Perry’s we drive to downtown Rochester NY, home of many kosher plants, and of course, Kodak. Upstate Farms’ fluid milk plant is here, as is Van Lab, the flavor company. Additionally, Pennant Foods, the bakery supplier, has two plants here. Coke has a plant, which is 200 yards from High Falls Brewery, with the beautiful Genesee River running between them, including three sets of waterfalls.
Near Rochester is the home of Fleischer’s Bagels, one of the largest private labelers of bagels in the world. This very high tech company is extremely fascinating. Down the road in Avon is the huge (and I mean huge!) Barilla pasta plant. This plant is so amazingly clean one can eat off of the floor!
We mentioned Lake Erie. Now it’s Lake Ontario’s turn. From Rochester to Oswego within close proximity to Lake Ontario is the very picturesque Route 104: a nightmare in the winter due to lake effect snow; magnificent the rest of the year. In this 50-mile stretch, I have seven plants, including fruit and vegetable processors. Many of the fruits and vegetables are grown close by. Among them is Victor Packing, the sauerkraut producer. Further down we have Mizkan and Fleischmann Vinegar companies. Cahoon Farms produces all kinds of fruit pie fillings. Anyone is invited to taste my chocolate blueberry cake made with blueberry pie filling from Cahoon Farms. No, it’s not dietetic! Helluva Good Horseradish is next. A division of HP Hood, the company produces boatloads of horseradish both for Passover and all year round.
We now switch from the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes. New York State is famous for the Finger Lakes, which are a series of long narrow lakes, sometimes extending for 30-40 miles. The drive along these lakes is exceptionally beautiful, especially in the Fall, with magnificent colored foliage.
The northern end of Seneca Lake is home to three fruit and vegetable processors. Cherry Pharm and Red Jacket Orchards are premium juice processors. Seneca Foods is the world’s largest vegetable canning company. An interesting anecdote: Red Jacket Orchards (RJO) became OU certified when some Hasidic women in Williamsburg, Brooklyn told a distributor that they would buy the product if it were kosher. RJO chose the Lexus of the kosher industry: the OU! Its sales have skyrocketed ever since becoming certified. RJO premium juices are full of fiber so they are healthy and delicious.
Thirty miles from Geneva is the town of Watkins Glen, the famous home of a racing car track and a state park with gorges and magnificent waterfalls. Under Seneca Lake at Watkins Glen is salt! Cargill and US Salt mine the product from under the lake.
About five miles west of Seneca Lake is the town of Penn Yan. This fascinating town is amazing as it is the home of many Amish families and is also a resort area. Penn Yan is the home of two very unique companies. First is Birkett Mills, a specialty grain miller. Part of the building and some of the equipment is over 100 years old; it is amazing that certain processes haven’t changed in a century. Down the road is CASP, a specialty dairy products packer. Its claim to fame is extended shelf life coffee and cream type products. From July through November my next stop is an Amish farm. My wife loves when I bring home 20 pounds of butternut squash or 30 pounds of peaches to cook.
Also in the Finger Lakes region are two dry mix packers where lots of cake and pancake mixes are produced. They are the Raymond Hadley Company of Spencer, NY and New Hope Mills of Auburn.
Over the hill from Watkins Glen lies Route 17, now called 86, which is the Southern Tier Expressway. Let us drive from Cuba, NY to Binghamton. This remote area of New York State has beautiful rolling hills and much snow in the winter. Probably because cows outnumber people, I have six dairy plants in this area.
Between Pollio’s ricotta cheese in Campbell and Leprino in Waverly is the city of Corning. Known for its glass, here is the home of the internationally known glass museum. And what do you think is made in Corning? You guessed it – not glass. Corning glass is no longer produced here. In fact, exotic fiber optics are produced here.
A few miles from Corning is the large Corning/Elmira airport. There are very few flights here; however, this airport has extremely long runways in case it is needed as an emergency landing strip for diverted planes. There is also an aviation museum in town.
From Binghamton we will proceed northeast towards Norwich, NY, home for as far back as 100 years ago of Norwich aspirins. This area also has many exotic dairy plants, including HP Hood in Oneida and Agro Pharma in South Edmonston. Agro Pharma produces a delicious Greek yogurt, Chobani. Sales are booming and the OU on the label has been a great help. This area is very close to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and many other tourist attractions. It is a great summer trip even for the non-baseball enthusiast.
Now we swing way north to the edge of the Adirondacks — stunningly beautiful in the summer and treacherous in the winter. Great Lakes Cheese in Adams is only a few miles from the internationally known tourist area, “Thousand Islands.” These thousand islands are in the St. Lawrence Seaway, not in salad dressing. The St. Lawrence Seaway separates the United States from Canada.
Far south from here is the Binghamton area. Frito Lay has a massive plant here. The building is so huge there are actually train tracks through the building dropping off oils for the fryer. Crowley has a fluid plant here as well as Black and White Cookie company, the all natural premium cookie company. Walton is the home of Breakstone Cottage Cheese, the Kraft division, which produces for both year round and Passover. Ultra Dairy in Delhi is where organic milk is produced, fat free but still delicious chocolate milk, and aerosol whipped cream.
Let us now back track all the way back to Dunkirk/ Fredonia, NY. Due south is the city of Jamestown, and continuing south one enters Pennsylvania and the Allegany National Forest area. This area is awesomely beautiful and very historic. Approximately 150 years ago this area of Bradford and Warren, PA is where the first oil wells were discovered in the United States; this area really greased the wheels of invention.
In Western Pennsylvania, not far from the Ohio line, are three plants in the Sharon area. Sharon was known in 1979 as the town where there was a new flag raised every day of the Iranian hostage crisis. Today one still sees the “Boulevard of 400 Flags.”
Charlie’s Specialties, the gourmet pastry company is here, with a product that is high taste, high calorie and high fat. Down the road in another Amish area is a Dairy Farmers (DFA) whey plant. Finally in Sharpsville we find the huge fluid milk plant of Dean Dairy.
We finally end up in the town of Dubois, PA the home of Fresh Harvest River Foods, a specialty condiments packer. Northwest of here, the town of Lake City, PA is the home of Maple Donuts. Finally, west of Dubois is State College, PA, a booming area, home of the main campus of Pennsylvania State University with close to 50,000 students. Don’t even try to get a hotel room when the Penn State Nittany Lions are playing a home game. Outside of State College is the small town of Centre Hall, the home of Hanover Foods, a massive vegetable processor.
You probably wonder if it gets lonely being away from home two to four nights a week. Sometimes it does. However, I find my route extremely fascinating, which keeps life interesting. All the New York State Thruway collectors know me on a first name basis!
I am proud of my relationship with the people in my plants. One plant actually said that they wait for my visit. Another said that I bring energy to their company. I feel that a great working relationship has helped me deal with issues that arise, as some of my plants are quite complicated in a kosher sense.
Altogether, I drive about 45,000 miles a year on behalf of OU Kosher. The road is long, the winters are freezing, the warm months are beautiful, and at the end of each byway is a plant that is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. In the words of a famous advertising jingle, “I love New York.” I might add, “I love Pennsylvania” as well.