August 08, 2002
Jennie G. still means quality
:: Previous Barry Lewis columns
By Barry Lewis
She sits on the shelves, amid the litewhite, natural oat and country wheat.
She attracts the eye of choosy shoppers not with a gimmicky slogan or a Madison Avenue jingle, but a regal smile.
It's been nearly 20 years since the icon of Catskill resorts last served blintzes and borscht.
And almost 30 years have passed since the matriarch of Grossinger's died, leaving a legacy that extends far beyond the Liberty hilltop that could have trademarked heimishe [old-fashioned] hospitality.
While the notion of a traditional Sullivan County hotel stay may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some Disney-fed baby boomers, there's no denying that folks from Maryland to Massachusetts still yearn to sink their teeth into the chewy, firm taste of Grossinger's Unseeded Rye.
The wrapping assures consumers the hearth baked bread, 97 percent fat free, is made with the "authentic formula from the kitchen of Jennie Grossinger."
Like the white-suited colonel, who long after his passing is still the best pitchman for the crispy and original recipe, no one can sell Grossinger bread better than the woman who stood behind her recipe, and whose face is forever pictured in front of the landmark resort, knows the man who now owns the rights to the Grossinger name.
"I've made some dough with this dough," confesses Murray Wilson, an investor from the city who in 1994 paid $225,000 in bankruptcy court for the trade name.
"OK, I made a lot of dough," says Murray. It's not the normal routine of 5 cents a loaf, but a flat fee per year that he says pays the bills.
"The name is a good name. And it's good bread. And Jennie Grossinger must have been a good cook."
Elaine Etess admits her mother, who could be seen walking the picturesque hotel grounds with Eleanor Roosevelt, wasn't exactly locked in the kitchen, kneading dough by a hot stove.
But the recipe and the bread did catch on with thousands of hotel guests who were taking "for later" loafs back to the city.
The Grossinger family baked bread at the resort until the early 1950s, when it sold the right to produce and sell the bread to a Brooklyn bakery.
The closing of the hotel in 1986 and several bankruptcy hearings have moved the original recipe and baking process around.
Today millions of loafs, still kosher, are baked and distributed out of the H&S Bakery of Baltimore, Maryland.
"She would have been very proud to know there is still interest in the bread. She always stressed the freshness. Even when mass produced, it had to be fresh," Etess said.
But before people taste it, you've got to get them to buy it. That's where the Grossinger name comes in.
"It's a brand, a name that elicits certain positive emotions," explains Vernon Murray, assistant professor of marketing at Marist College.
The fancy term is embedded awareness. He says people aren't even aware they're paying attention to an ad, or in this case, the Grossinger name and picture of Jennie and the resort.
People acting on feelings rather than thought.
That's a lot of psychobabble to explain why someone buys rye bread.
That's probably because Grossinger's wasn't just another hotel. And Jennie was not simply an inn keeper.
"We tried to make bagels - Grossinger Bagels," says Wilson, who invested in the Grossinger name after developers began tearing the famed resort apart, and long before Indian-run casinos began rolling off the tongues of speculators.
"People love bagels. But they knew it wasn't from Jennie. That told me it wasn't just about the taste. It was about the name."
Have a sandwich. It's on Jennie G.
Barry Lewis is Sullivan County editor for the Times Herald-Record. He can be reached at 794-6711 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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