The story of food in Akron is the story of people who immigrated to the area from different parts of the world. Fortunately for us, as they arrived they brought their recipes with them.
In the early days of Akron, German immigrants moved to the area to work on and around the Ohio & Erie Canal. Just as Ferdinand Schumacher introduced Akron, and the rest of the country, to oatmeal, other Germans were also just as savvy.
The Germans introduced beer to Akron. In 1865, Fredrick Gaessler established Wolf Ledge Brewery. Later he partnered with Wilhelm Burkhardt and the company became Burkhardt and Company. The company survived prohibition by producing non-alcoholic beverages, and then resumed brewing beer after it ended. It continued to operate until the brewery was sold in 1956.
Akron has continued its tradition of brewing beer with craft brewers all over the city making beer today.
Another creative German immigrant was Jacob Paquin – nephew of Burkhardt and Company's brewmaster – who started the Norka Beverage company in 1925 as an answer to prohibition. Norka (Akron spelled backwards) soda pops were popular in the area and produced until the 1960s.
In 2015, Michael Considine – a young Akron entrepreneur – revived the Norka brand as a craft soda, and now Norka sells nationwide.
Frank and Robert Menches were Akronites of German descent and lay claim to a food creation myth that has shaped the way we eat in America. The brothers traveled the fair circuit, selling concessions. The story goes that while at a fair in Hamburg, New York in 1885, they ran out of pork sausage for their sandwiches and switched to ground beef. The sandwiches were well received and when asked what they called it, they named the sandwich after the fair, calling it a “Hamburg.”
Now considered Akron institutions, Bob's Hamburg opened in 1931, and Swenson's in 1934, preceding America’s best-known burger joint by more than 20 years.
As if being able to say you created the hamburger wasn't enough, Frank Menches also lays claim to the creation of the ice cream cone! He and another brother, Robert, were serving ice cream at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis when they ran out of bowls. Another nearby vendor was serving a flat wafer pastry that the brothers rolled into a cone and used for serving ice cream.
Germans weren't the only people to move to Akron and leave their mark on the way we eat. By the 1930s, the second largest group of immigrants in the area were Italians. They – like many other ethnic groups - were lured to Akron by the booming rubber economy. The new residents formed social organizations, clubs, and churches. They also settled in ethnic neighborhoods – most notably for the Italians, North Hill.
You can still see the influence of the people who took a chance on moving to Akron in the family-owned Italian restaurants and pizza places found all over the town. Akron also embraces lots of other food considered ethnic, such as perogies, paprikash, and sauerkraut balls – which are considered unique to Akron.
Today there are new immigrants from different parts of the world calling Akron home, and again we gain new flavors to enjoy at meal time. As the International Institute of Akron helps people from many different countries get settled and acquainted to their surroundings, we are starting to enjoy great Thai, Nepali, and many other cuisines.