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August 24, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-08-24

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Friday, August 24, 1984 25

Special to The Jewish News

t seems the least likely
setting for a success
story. There's a pile of
discarded furniture
out front. The com-
pany sign is so small
it's easily missed. Italian speaking
boys use a car missing its windshield
as a place to play. You hear subway
brakes screeching nearby. To get into
the building you duck under a half-
open garage door, jump over a puddle
and climb the steps.
This is 63rd Street in Ben-
sonhurst, a working class Italian and
Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn,
N,Y. It is also the home of Tofutti, an
ice cream-like dessert that is becom-
ing the rage of the food industry,
turning its creator, David Mintz into
an overnight star.
A laminated color portrait of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem
Schneerson stares from one wall.
Wearing a yarmulke, Mintz, himself
a Lubavitch Jew, kisses the mezuzah
in the entranceway of his office, be-
fore sitting down.
After 10 years of research,
Mintz, 53, has managed to scoop the
rest of the ice cream industry. Only
he didn't do it with ice cream. Instead
he's taken pasteurized tofu, a
protein-rich soybean curd, and
turned it into a cholesterol and lac-
tose free dessert. Tofutti is honey
sweetened, comes in several flavors
and has the same textures and con-
sistency of ice cream only with about
half the calories.
You don't hive to look for some
underground health food store to find
the product either. Chances are
you've seeh it next to the Haagen-
Dazs and Louis Sherry ice creams at
your favorite food store or deli this
Mintz will modestly tell you that
after two years of marketing the
product, he is worth about $18 mil-
lion. His bookkeeper and top assis-
tant, Roz Polner, will tell you it's
more like $26 million. The company ,
is shipping out 40,000 gallons of To-
futti each month, and distributors
from all over the world are placing
orders. But Mintz has paid his dues to
become successful. A workaholic, he
spent years test marketing the prod-
uct, mixing and concocting over 30
different vanillas for his pareve des-
sert before he was satisfied.
Mintz doesn't come on like a food
magnate. He wears a white lab coat
and tinted dark glasses. He lives in

The nation's hottest selling
snack is the creation
of an Orthodox Jew
named David Mintz.

Sheepshead Bay, and comes across as
your average nice guy who would go
out of his way to please a guest. He's
been interviewed on national TV talk
shows, and in major magazines and
People magazine called Tofutti
"a cool, creamy concoction that is
turning into this summer's hottest-
selling snack." Time said that it was
sweeping the nation.
Mintz said that his products
were the result of his search for some-
thing to replace milk products for use
in desserts, especially for people like
himself who observed the laws of
kashrut. He, at one time, owned three
gourmet restaurants called Mintz's
Buffet, as well as 12 catering outlets,
all kosher, before giving way to run
the tofu empire called Tofu Time, Inc.
"In my 27 years in the food busi-

.......refe.OVNIeWV••••••• ■ •••AM011.. ■

ness, I've always created unusual
items and gourmet type items,"
Mintz said. "But we always had a
problem. People requested dairy for
dessert, but we had to tell them that
we could not serve dairy foods im-
mediately after a meat meal. For a
while we'd serve the imitation ice
creams, but they tasted atrocious.
About eight or nine years ago I read
about tofu, and I was amazed with
what could be done with it. The first
product I made with tofu was a sour
cream for beef stroganoff. It was
non-dairy and delicious. So that
started me off. Then I started sub-
stituting the cheeses in rugelach pas-
tries with tofu. People thought they
were eating cheese. Then I made
cheese cakes and cheese casseroles
with it."
The concept of an ice cream sub-


stitute turned into his biggest chal-
lenge. Mintz said that he spent hours
at his office, mixing flavors and ex-
perimenting with the idea until it fi-
nally clicked. Polner, his assistant,
left a high paying job in the garment
district to come to work for Mintz.
"I answered his ad in the paper,"
Polner said. "I came here and he told
me that I looked like an honest
enough person. He gave me the keys
to the office and told me to get rid of
the line of people who had gathered
outside to interview for the job. We
worked in a one room office that
leaked from the roof when it rained.
He didn't pay at all for a couple of
months. He told me just to hang in
there, that it would pay off."
Polner runs the business from
the inside for Mintz. She has not
taken a vacation in years. She comes
into work seven days a week, and on
holidays to make sure that the freez-
ers are in operation. Indeed, she said
she almost cried when in the early
days a load of Tofutti started to melt
in the street when a truck was late
showing up.
Polner now wears a gold chain
with Tofutti engraved on it. She also
drives a new Cadillac. She smiles
when it is suggeted that the job fi-
nally did pay off.
"What's happened here is a fairy
tale," she said. "I came here because
there was something I liked about
David. I think it was his belief. When
David hired me I was a credit man-
ager in the garment district. David
told me he had a 'good feeling about
me.' He's a brilliant man."
Tofutti comes in seven soft serve
flavors and four hard pack pint sizes.
The soft serve flavors include vanilla,
chocolate, strawberry, maple walnut,
banana pecan, peanut butter and
wildberry. The hard pack flavors in-
clude vanilla almond bark, chocolate
supreme, wildberry and maple wal-
Tofutti, distributed in Detroit by
Golden Valley Dairy Co., is available
in pints at: Shopping Center Markets
of Southfield and West Bloomfield;
Lakewood Specialty Food Center in
Oak Park; The Merchant of Vino in
Southfield; Felice Quality Market in
Pontiac; Barry Drugs in, Royal Oak;
Chuck and Bud's Fruit and Deli in
Oak Park; Betty's Grocery Store in
Birmingham; Gabe's Fruit and Deli

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