By Mary Davis
Charles Elmer Doolin (1903-1959) worked in his father’s car repair garage/tire shop as well as the family’s Highland Park Confectionary in San Antonio, Texas. Not content to continue with only sugary treats, he was eager to add a salty snack to the line-up of sweets. He found that tortilla chips staled too quickly and wanted something salted with crunch-staying power.
Keeping his eyes open, he spotted Gustavo Olguin’s ad in the San Antonio Express. Homesick Olguin needed money to return to Mexico, so he offered his original fried corn chip recipe for sale along with a modified potato ricer and nineteen retail accounts, all for the bargain price of $100. With one taste, Doolin knew he had found what he was looking for. However, this was 1932 with the Great Depression in full swing. As with most people, that was more money than Doolin had. However, he believed in the tasty chips and his mother believed in him, so she pawned her wedding ring to raise the funds.
Elmer started manufacturing Fritos with the help of his mother, father, and brother in his mother’s kitchen. They created the Frito Corporation to keep this separate from the other businesses, and sales began out of their garage. They produced roughly ten pounds of chips a day, grossing $8-$10 a day, and after expenses, a net profit of $2 a day. By the next year, sales—and profits—had increased tenfold. Not bad during the Great Depression.
Quickly outgrowing the garage arrangement, they purchased the house next door to expand the operation. In 1933-34, they opened plants in Dallas and Tulsa.
The Texas Centennial Exposition displayed Fritos
in 1936. By 1947, the company had expanded with plants in Los Angeles and
Denver and had franchises across the country. H. W. Lay and Company had an
exclusive franchise license to make and sell Fritos all across the Southeastern
United States. The Frito Company expanded their line-up by creating other
snacks, including Cheetos in 1948.
Doolin developed his own hybrid corn and contracted Texas farmers to exclusively grow his special variety. His corn was his secret ingredient.
By 1955, the Frito Corporation owned over fifty manufacturing plants and was one of the early Disneyland investors. They had a Casa de Frito Restaurant in Disneyland a month after the park opened.
Inside this Disneyland restaurant stood a large, animatronic Frito the Kid mascot vending machine. Put in a nickel, and Frito the Kid, surrounded by mountains, would come to life, moving his eyes and tongue from side to side. He would call to his partner inside the “Frito mine” mountain, and a bag of delicious, crunchy chips slid down the chute to the customer. This feature remained in Disneyland for ten years. Several other mascots followed from 1967 on, including the Frito Bandito, the Muncha Bunch Gang, and W.C. Fritos.
The Frito Company merged with H. W. Lay and Company to form Frito-Lay in 1961, and then Pepsi-Cola Company merged with them in 1965 to become PepsiCo.
A popular recipe using Fritos is Frito Pie, which has apparently been around since almost the beginning. However, this Northwestern gal had never heard of it until my critique partner mentioned it a few weeks ago. Frito pie, a.k.a. a walking taco or Frito boat, consists of three basic ingredients, Fritos, chili, and cheese. Then one can add additional ingredients to taste, like onions, jalapeños, sour cream, tomatoes, or whatever else one fancies. Historically, it was served right from the Fritos bag. Open it up and spoon in the desired ingredients. Though I hadn’t heard this term before, I do love to scoop up my turkey chili with Fritos.
I found conflicting accounts of who created the Frito Pie recipe. Some credited it to Doolin’s wife, Katherine. Other sources say Doolin’s mother, Daisy, came up with it, or Mary Livingston, Doolin’s executive secretary, or Nell Morris who helped develop the official Frito-Lay’s cookbook. Whoever dreamed it up, Frito Pie and various other recipes were printed on the back of the bags, though none were as long lasting as Frito Pie.
Interestingly, Doolin, being highly health
conscience by avoiding meat and salt, didn’t consume his own product. On the
rare occasion he did fancy to munch a bunch, he took them right off the
factory conveyer belt before they were salted.
The original Frito’s ingredients were corn, corn oil, and salt. Thankfully, the recipe hasn’t changed. I love Fritos! They are a perfect balance of oil and salt. Mmm, mmm good!!!
Here’s a fun vintage commercial with Frito the Kid.
THE WIDOW’S PLIGHT (Book1) – Will a secret clouding a single mother’s past cost Lily the man she loves?
THE DAUGHTER’S PREDICAMENT (Book2) *2020 SELAH Awards Finalist & WRMA Finalist* – As Isabelle’s romance prospects are turning in her favor, a family scandal derails her dreams.
THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (Book3) *2021 SELAH Awards Winner & WRMA Finalist*– Nicole heads down the mountain to fetch herself a husband. Can she learn to be enough of a lady to snag the handsome rancher?
THE DÉBUTANTE’S SECRET (Book4) –Complications arise when a fancy French lady, Geneviève, steps off the train and into Deputy Montana’s arms.
THE LADY’S MISSION (Book5) *2023 SELAH Award Finalist – Will Cordelia abandon her calling for love?