Memories in a bottle

Before the familiar milk cartons and plastic gallon jugs lined the dairy aisle of the neighborhood grocery store, buying milk was done much differently.

Beginning in 1924 and for approximately 40 years, residents in Trumbull County and surrounding areas had their milk delivered to their front porch by a milkman driving a horse and wagon, or in later years, a milk truck.

Every two or three days, the familiar glass bottles appeared at each house, with Warren Sanitary Dairy’s red script lettering.

After moving to Warren from his Ravenna farm, Samuel L. Stauffer bought Trumbull Creamery, and in 1924, he founded Warren Sanitary Milk Company on Dana Street N.E. The company bought milk from local farms and pasteurized and bottled it for delivery.

Warren Sanitary Dairy began its business with two delivery wagons and grew to its heyday of employing more than 200 people in the production plant, delivery trucks and at the restaurant.

Customers knew that Warren Sanitary Dairy products were homemade from the farm to their homes to be enjoyed fresh as milk or cream or frozen as ice cream treats.

Warren resident Elaine Sloan recalled her father delivering milk.

“Everyone at work knew him as ‘Shifty,'” she said. “He worked at Riverside Dairy in Niles. When Warren Sanitary Milk Company bought Riverside, he worked for them, delivering to the schools and grocery stores.”

She also remembers her dad starting work at 5:30 a.m. to make sure that all of the schools in the area had milk for their lunches.

According to Tom Tisher, former sales manager and grandson of the dairy’s founder, the process was regulated and inspected by the federal, state and local health departments. He began working there after a two-year stint in the U.S. Army and graduating from The Ohio State University.

In the autumn of 1927, the processing plant moved to 1296 Youngstown Warren Road (U.S. Route 422 in Warren). They quickly expanded. There was a barn for the delivery horses, offices, and a processing plant besides the soda shop / restaurant, which is the building that comes to mind for most area residents when Warren Sanitary Dairy is mentioned.

The restaurant was set up with three U-shaped counters. The server could walk to the kitchen window and give and receive orders on the inside of the ”U” while waiting on customers to the left and right who were sitting on stools that swiveled. There were also booths and a small store selling Warren Sanitary Dairy products such as milk, ice cream and cottage cheese.

Kay Tisher worked at the restaurant in the years prior to her marriage to Tom, whom she knew from school.

“My three sisters worked there,” she said. “Two of them were managers. They just called me one day and told me to come to work. I worked there all through high school.”

There were many flavorful items to choose from on the menu, but customers had a few favorites.

“I remember going there for their banana splits,” said Lucille Soltesz of Niles. “It was a special treat to go there and everyone who worked there was always so nice.”

Kay Tisher recalled another ice cream treat that was frequently ordered.

“It was our own homemade hot fudge with pecans,” she said. “You got two scoops of vanilla ice cream and one of chocolate in the middle. It was the most popular because they made their own hot fudge sauce and roasted their own pecans.”

The restaurant was open from 8 a.m. to midnight and offered breakfast, burgers and fries and numerous types of ice cream treats. Teens could work there beginning at age 15, but their workday ended at 10 p.m. if they had school the next day.

“It was the social spot,” Kay Tisher said, recalling that young people frequented the dairy after football games and school dances.

“After a basketball game, it would be chaos,” Tom Tisher said. “They would fill the place up, and people would be standing outside waiting to get in.”

Sandy Tisher Van Huffel, one of the founder’s great-granddaughters, remembered the fun of eating holiday-themed ice creams.

“They had a quart of ice cream, and they would put Santa in there, and they had peppermint stick ice cream at Christmas time,” she said.

Kay Tisher explained the process for another special treat.

“There was a mold for a turkey that was stamped on the ice cream and filled in with chocolate for Thanksgiving,” she said.

Tom Tisher expanded the reach of the business from Geauga, Mahoning and Trumbull counties to Wheeling, West Virginia and Erie, Pa.

“We supplied Dairy Queen and Burger King with their mix,” he said. “McDonald’s made their green shakes, but it was with our mix. They added the green color.”

At the time, being an ice cream company was similar to being a physician on call.

“People called the house at all hours,” Kay Tisher said. “It wasn’t unusual to have a phone call at one, two o’clock in the morning.”

But the Tisher children didn’t like the interruptions to family fun.

“We were having Fourth of July, and we were at Kay’s sister’s house,” Tom Tisher said. “She had a pool. It was McDonald’s first year they had the banana shakes. They had to have it for seven stores in Erie, Pa., so I took it up there.”

However, as time passed, Warren Sanitary Dairy couldn’t compete with mass produced product prices, and the loss of such clients as the local steel plant workers was bad for business.

Home delivery was the first part of the business to close when Warren Sanitary Dairy couldn’t compete with supermarket prices.

In 1974, the restaurant that had once been the destination for many Trumbull County residents after going to church, the movies or a Kenley Players production at Packard Music Hall, shut down. Grocery and convenient stores began carrying ice cream closer to homes, and the numerous restaurants opening on Route 422’s Strip proved to be too much competition.

In 1981, the plant making dairy products and novelties such as Dreamsicles and Drumsticks closed.

As a result of vandalism, the former Warren Sanitary Dairy burned down in the early 1990s, but for many Trumbull County residents, as they enjoy their favorite ice cream this summer, they’ll still cherish their memories of when they ate such a tasty treat for the first time at Warren Sanitary Dairy’s restaurant.