Mama always said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” She also taught me that mayonnaise is not mayonnaise unless it’s Duke’s.
It saddens me to know the actions that prompted this post. If you grew up in Greenville, like me, you’re familiar with Duke’s and know that it’s made at C.F. Sauer Company on Laurens Road. Native Greenvillians are just as familiar with Dukes Sandwich Company. Actually, they’ve always been seen as one here. After almost a century of peaceful co-existence, there’s now a lawsuit over the (temporary) new logo celebrating 100 years.
This story can’t be understood without a bit of history. Eugenia Duke, born in 1881, was the epitome of female entrepreneurship. In a time when women could not vote, she built a corporation in her kitchen from scratch (pun intended.) A mayonnaise legacy was born.
Once upon a time in Greenville (1917 to be exact) there was a training camp for soldiers known as Camp Sevier. Eugenia Duke began selling popular favorites like chicken salad, pimento cheese and egg salad to hungry soldiers for $.10 each. Soldiers begged for jars of her special spread. When she sold her 11,000th sandwich, she invested in a delivery truck.
After the war, she sold sandwiches at local drug stores. Eugenia eventually turned the first floor of the Otteray Hotel, on Main Street, into Duke’s Tea Room where she sold sandwiches and sides. Later Duke began selling her mayonnaise as a separate product. (Don’t lose track of the fact that we’re talking EARLY 1900s.)
In 1924, Eugenia Duke sold the sandwiches and spreads side of her business to J. Allen Hart. In 1929, she sold the mayonnaise side of her business to C. F. Sauer and remained spokesperson till she moved to California to take care of her daughter.
Fast forward to today…
Anyone who has sampled a Duke’s sandwich knows potato chips aren’t the only thing you can’t eat just one of (pardon the grammar). Made fresh daily with the same classic recipes, pimento cheese and deviled egg have long been crowd favorites. No celebration or get-together is complete without Dukes sandwiches cut into three parts to form perfect finger sandwiches served on silver or crystal trays. Long before today’s fast food chains appeared on the Greenville landscape, our town had Dukes Sandwiches – the perfect fast food!
C.F. Sauer Company recently sold to a private equity firm, Falfurrias Capital Partners, out of Charlotte. Suddenly, there’s a problem with the use of the Dukes name to sell the sandwiches and spreads. For 100 years, the two businesses shared the Duke name. Both originated from the same ground breaking business woman. Now the big business is afraid the public won’t know the difference in chicken salad and the mayonnaise used to make it? Seriously!
Here in the South (more specifically, Greenville), we’re loyal and pride ourselves in supporting long-standing local businesses. Duke’s Vice President of Marketing, Matt Haskell says, “the lawsuit came in and shocked all of us!”
I don’t mind telling you, I’m more than a little shocked too. A statement from the “About Us” section on the Falfurrias Capital Partners website states, “… our team allows our management teams to focus on doing what they do best: leading their companies.”
That sounds really great, but I’m not sure I’d want to be part of a “team” that finds merit in attacking family tradition that dates back to World War I.
You keep doing you, Duke Sandwich Company, and we promise to keep inviting you to dinner.