As Marion has changed and grown, the entrepreneurial Isaly family also evolved to provide fond memories, delicious sundaes, and jobs for thousands of residents. And it is this proud history of quality and dedication that makes Isaly’s a 2020 Celebrate Marion honoree in the Products category.
In 1914, the Isaly family of Mansfield purchased The Marion Pure Milk Company. Horse-pulled wagons made daily trips to local homes for the Isaly Dairy Company. Charles and Bertie Isaly married, managed the business, and raised a family of seven in Marion.
The Isaly family business grew. Even through the Great Depression, the company thrived as people needed milk, providing stable employment in uncertain times. In 1947, they opened a plant on East Center Street which was touted as one of the world’s most modern dairy plants. It helped provide milk across three states.
“When I was growing up in the 1960s or 1970s, I would run into people all of the time who said, ‘I used to work at the dairy,’” recalls Lorraine Isaly Barker, granddaughter of Charles and Bertie.
In addition, the Isaly family opened luncheonettes, one on South Main Street in 1945 and another on Prospect Street in 1950. At these delis, you could get milk and cheese as well as chipped chopped ham sandwiches, sodas, and a special Skyscraper ice cream cone that towered over their competitors. They also served Klondike bars, which the Isaly family invented and were made by hand.
The times continued to change and the Isaly family changed along with it. Refrigerators eliminated the need for daily milk delivery. Fast food edged out the corner lunch counters. In 1968, John and Nancy Isaly opened the Isaly Shoppe on Mt. Vernon Avenue.
The Isaly Shoppe was a family affair. Her father, John, focused on running the front of the house. Her mother, Nancy, worked as a bookkeeper. All four of their daughters worked there. The youngest daughter, Melissa, insisted that if her older sisters could waitress, she could, too. On Sundays, the 10-year-old was given a big white apron and one or two tables. The customers loved having an eager young waitress.
“Missy couldn’t even reach the food coming off the grill. We all had to help her out,” Barker recalls. “My sister made twice the tips that everyone else did.”
Barker remembers people being lined up for the all-you-can-eat fish fry on Wednesdays. In addition to burgers and platters, the Isaly family served treats including Klondike bars, tin roof sundaes, and the “I’ll never see my feet again” banana split, piled high with eight scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, and four types of syrup. If you could finish the food challenge, you were awarded a T-shirt.
“What could be better, growing up as a kid, than to serve ice cream to people? What a great life!” Barker remembers.
John Isaly took part in every detail, from surveying the land to build the restaurant until his retirement in 1995.
“My father was there all the time. Nobody ever worked harder at anything than him. He had a lot of attention to detail. He tried to exceed people’s expectations,” Barker recalls.
With a degree in hospitality from Cornell, the Marion native enjoyed providing quality food, stellar customer service, and a memorable experience.
“My father was, I believe, a man of really utmost integrity. He was very personable. He liked people. He also liked things being right. Right meant in order, clean, high quality. He was always fair. He really did care about the people who worked with him and for him.”
The Isalys were involved in the Marion community. Nancy Isaly was the first female member of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce. She was a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church and involved in many charities, from the local Girl Scouts to mobile meals to raising funds for a well-baby clinic.
John Isaly, an Army veteran, also served as a deacon. He was involved in the local Lion’s Club as well as the Marion County Youth Foundation. Their four daughters graduated from Marion Harding High School.
“Even though we’re gone now, our roots in the community are very long,” Barker said.
Many Marionites hold special memories of the Isaly Shoppe, the luncheonettes, and the Isaly Dairy. Isaly’s will always be MarionMade!