I live in Cheezie territory. The W.T. Hawkins Cheezies plant is located in Belleville, which is our closest “big town”.
I have held an interest in the W.T. Hawkins Cheezies Company since late January. At that time I listened to an interesting CBC radio interview with Ken Hawkins (grandson to one of the founders). Ken Hawkins currently runs the company.
Two Americans founded the company in 1949. W.T. Hawkins was a Chicago confectionwer. James E. Marker was a farmer with an idea. He invented a machine which took cornmeal and extrudered it into small sticks. At the time he was looking for a way to preserve corn year round for his cattle. Together these men went into business. The cornmeal concoction were fried in oil and coated in powdered cheddar cheese.
They set up their plant in Tweed Ontario. When that plant closed due to a fire in 1956, they rebuilt in Belleville. Cheezies are their sole product.
For 62 years this little plant has been battling the giant competitors. Cheezies are the original, but there are many rival impersonators, for example: Cheetos made by Frito-Lay / PepsiCo. I gather it is difficult for Cheezies to get shelf space in many of the large supermarket chains. They are squeezed out by the billion dollar competitors. Fortunately the Cheezies brand has some real faithful followers. For example, apparently it is hot stuff in Newfoundland. (who knew?) Everyone in Belleville and surrounding Picton, Bay of Quinte area seem to be loyal fans. I think they are good employers as well. Apparently they have many very long-term employees. During their peak busy season (spring/summer) they have approxately 100 people in their Belleville plant.
Just last week, Warren and I made a point of driving to their plant. I wanted to check it out and hopefully visit their on-site store. I had visions of picking up a whole carton to share among family and friends. Who doesn’t love Cheezies? They are made from real cheddar cheese. It’s a perfect snack, even if it does turn your fingers bright orange. To our great disappointment there was no store. Actually the old white building did not even have a sign. (what’s with that?) We asked a pleasant hair-netted woman in the parking lot and she confirmed that “yes – this was the W.T. Hawkins Cheezie plant” and “No -they did not sell them on site”. ): I went away quite disappointed. It seemed like low hanging fruit to improve their marketing and consequent sales. Start with a sign. Geesh …. This is a picture of their plant . Unimpressive eh?
Anyway, what a coincidence to read in today’s paper that one of the founders – James E Marker, died on Tuesday. He was 90 years old.
So, in honour of this inventor, who had faith in his product and the courage to invest in Belleville; who provided a livelihood to many people in this area, and who has given the world a delicious bright orange little snack …. I say “Thank You Mr. James E Marker”. I hope you legacy continues for many many years to come. May you rest in peace.
For more information on the W.T. Hawkins Cheezies Company check out www.cheezies.com
Post-script: I was just listening to another radio interview (CJBQ Belleville radio 800 AM) and they explained why W.T. Hawkins Cheezies doesn’t have a sign on their plant. Apparently they are trying to be low-key to keep away the unions. “Everyone who needs to know where the plant is, does.” They intentionly do not want to advertise their location. .. hmmm quaint approach.