One of the concepts that always fascinates me are when I learn simple solutions to complex problems. I often wonder, maybe wish, why can’t I reverse engineer the idea and perhaps get two solutions for the price of one problem? Our entire planet functions consistently better as we societally, discover, exploit, and implement these ideas.
Truth is, I think many of the advances that brought us to this point were accidental discoveries. Case in point. I had a cousin Caryle. We were first cousins and fast friends. Sometime in the early 1980’s she had a friend who opened a hot dog stand on Chicago’s NW side.
Now that is not really big news, Chicago has about 1800 hot dog stands and it is our trademark dish. But then she gobsmacked me. She said her friend invented an Oreo milk shake. Now those who know me are aware of my affinity for Oreo’s and I have been known to enjoy numerous milk shakes in my life so off I went.
This was a former White Hen Pantry store at Belmont and Cicero for those who wonder, and in true Chicago style I did a level one “name drop,” “Caryle sent me”. I order a polish with peppers and a vanilla Oreo milk shake. It was delightful.
He explained how the idea came to him. Being an Oreo eater whenever he finished a box, he would dump the crumbs in his milk. One thing led to another, and his idea was born. Some time later a gentleman walks in for lunch, turns out this person was a South-sider and works at the Nabisco plant at 73rd and Kedzie. For you non-Chicagoans that plant, which recently closed, employed 1200 people and was the primary Midwest Oreo producer.
The man sees the shake on the menu board and orders one. Instant gratification. He asks how he processes or crushes the Oreo’s and he explains that he lays them out on wax paper, takes the rolling pin and crushes them to the desired consistency.
Then this South-sider drops the atomic bomb on him. He says our plant which runs 3 shifts, sweeps, cleans, and tosses out hundreds if not thousands of pounds of Oreo dust and crumbs daily. And then as if to rub salt in his wound he adds that does not even include the imperfect cookies we sacrifice.
He says, “You ought to go there and cut a deal.” Well, as the burger flipper so eloquently said, darn right. Two days later he cleans himself up and puts on what he refers to as his funeral suit and heads to 7300 S Kedzie Ave. He walks in and tells the receptionist he would like to see a manager and hands her a menu. She says have a seat. She calls someone, mumbles some words, and says it will be a few minutes.
Shortly thereafter Peter Pinstripe walks out to the lobby and introduces himself and shakes his hand. They both sit down and he is given a menu. Caryle’s friend explains his new product and how he was told he may be able to retire his rolling pin and buy the Oreo waste direct. The gentleman studied the menu carefully, made some odd facial expressions, stood up, shook his hand, and said I will get back to you.
About a week passes and the mailman shows up to the hot dog stand with a certified letter. The man sees the Nabisco logo and is giddy with excitement. He signs for it, opens the letter, and removes two documents. The first document stated that due to liability issues we cannot sell, donate, or reuse our waste. The second letter was a cease-and-desist letter stating if he uses the Oreo trademark in his restaurant, in essence, we will destroy you.
He got over it. He is an easy-going guy and will be well. Two years later business is good, and he decides to attend the Food Marketing Institute convention at McCormick Place. This is the premier convention for food producers and the like. He would have preferred the National Restaurant show but timing did not allow. While perusing the floor and sampling the treats he stumbled upon the Nabisco exhibit.
He cautiously enters and starts looking around then gravitates to the food service portion of their display and there it was. He was aghast to say the least.
Traitors? Probably not. Ruthless? Perhaps. Either way keeping it out of the garbage and repurposing anything is good for everyone. He will move on. Besides, his chocolate chip milk shakes are a hit and it keeps his grandmother busy.
The following year he returns, what does he find?
It makes you wonder, how much food did we really waste all these years and the fact that it can now be monetized is nothing short of amazing. As I listen to him tell his tales of woe I don’t even have the heart to tell him that tater tots share the same lineage (shout out to the Food Network).
So, what does all this stuff have to do with you. As I mentioned I love the concept of reverse engineering, reinventing, or thinking outside the box. I think I stumbled on a winner for ground transportation providers. Can it possibly be that the transportation industries also contain hidden nuggets of missed opportunity? Our own version of secret buried treasure that can be converted to true prosperity?
I just may have the secret sauce.
Until next time.
Hold My Beer.