As I prepare my second book on Isaly’s, I’m often asked if I have found the company’s old recipes, from beloved baked beans to their famous ham salad. Everyone has a favorite — when I was growing up, it was Isaly’s macaroni and cheese that I looked forward to each trip. Years later, I would experiment with my own recipe, trying to recreate the taste I remembered.
I was lucky to acquire one of the company’s recipe books from Tom and Gail Weisbecker, who ran the Isaly’s in West View. The books — actually red-bound binders — were used for making the stores’ daily lunch specials. The pages in the West View binder are well-worn and tattered, with some penciled-in tweaks to the company-sanctioned instructions. They are fun to read, especially when they are made for serving dozens of customers.
Tom started working with Isaly’s in the 1960s, so by the time I met him in the 1990s, he didn’t need the book. Today, he still recalls that rice pudding was a big seller back then, as was a hot dog baked with cheese and bacon. As we both tried to recall its exact name, there it was in the binder: the grilled wonder pup. Why that recipe has an X through it though, we don’t know — maybe it went out of favor as customers began asking for healthier options?
These two worker photos were donated recently to the History Center by Susan DeDomenic Williams. Standing outside the Isaly’s in Etna is Susan’s grandfather, John Michael Walsh, with one of the deli workers in 1951. The counter shot, taken in March 1957, shows John on the right, possibly at Sewickley where he was a manager. All the Isaly’s hallmarks are there, from cold cuts, olives, and cheeses to ice cream bricks, which were smaller than a half-gallon for when home freezers were still tiny.
If you worked at Isaly’s and took pictures, please consider donating your photos to the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives. Learn more about today’s Isaly’s company.
Brian Butko is the director of publications at the Heinz History Center and the author of Luna: Pittsburgh’s Original Lost Kennywood and Kennywood: Behind the Screams, along with several other books.