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Ever wonder how that lemon got in your water glass?

I’m sure you never gave a thought to how you ended up with a piece of lemon in your water when you go out to a restaurant. You probably figured that it was always that way.

Well, guess what? There is actually a person who came up with this idea. And his name is Joe.

Me with Joe Stubbs and Mom (Frieda)

Joe Stubbs. Retired executive in charge of foodservice sales for Sunkist Growers.

I had lunch with Joe last week at our local delicatessen and it was so much fun to hear his story.

He told me that he never finished high school and went into the Navy. When he got out of the Navy, he ended up working as a bellman at a local hotel in Long Beach. He is such a personable guy, I can see why he was successful. He eventually went on to work in sales for a meat company and finally made his way to Sunkist.

Right away, he was put in charge of foodservice sales for Sunkist. I am guessing there weren’t a lot of citrus items they could sell to restaurants and institutions at that time. After all, back in the 1970s, it was basically oranges (for juicing and cut pieces), grapefruit (halves were served for breakfast) and lemons (as an ingredient).

The way Joe told the story was this:

One of the “BIG” hotel chains back then was the Park Hyatt. It was the high-end part of the HYATT HOTEL chain. Joe was visiting them in Chicago and was in the kitchen. (When you are in foodservice sales, in order to talk with the chef – who is the decision maker – you end up spending a lot of time in the kitchen.)

Joe saw this big Globe slicer, which was used for cutting thin slices of potatoes and meat. Joe got an idea. He recognized that the chef of the Park Hyatt chain was looking for ways to make his boutique upscale hotel chain and its restaurants stand out. How about floating a thin slice of fresh lemon in every diner’s water glass? That would look pretty upscale, right?

I’m sure Joe had a bag of lemons with him, and showed the chef how easy it was to slice them using their existing Globe slicer.

The Park Hyatt restaurants were immediately seen as a “cut above” other hotel restaurants.

And that’s how it started!

Not a surprise that this idea caught on. When a chef gets a great food or garnish idea – it is always copied (or built upon) by other chefs. And as chefs move from restaurant to restaurant as they advance in their career, they take their ideas with them.

As a side note, that’s one of the reasons the Kiwifruit caught on. Even though Frieda’s introduced this fuzzy fruit to consumers through supermarkets in 1962, it was not until the 1970s, when chefs like Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Jeremiah Tower, started to garnish their desserts with fresh sliced Kiwifruit. They started a trend, and by the 1980s, Kiwifruit caught on!

Back to Joe and the lemons. Joe’s career at Sunkist lasted 28 years and he retired a few years ago. Just this past summer, he was invited to an industry foodservice conference. It was the 30th anniversary of the conference and Joe was recognized as one of the masterminds of the original conference.

Joe had many stories to share last week at lunch. After the lemon story, he started to tell us about how he got restaurants to serve freshly squeezed orange juice. Can you believe this guy? He’s full of a lot of creative ideas.

Actually, as we were finishing up lunch, he started sharing his thoughts on how we should celebrate our company’s 50th anniversary in 2012. Stay tuned for that one!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.


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