New Orleans history, dressed: The Blue Plate mayonnaise story
Once upon a time, in a little Gretna warehouse, Blue Plate Foods Inc., a subsidiary of the giant Wesson-Snowdrift Oil Co., started turning out mayonnaise — or mynez, to use the local pronunciation — bearing the Blue Plate name in 1929. In November 1943, Blue Plate moved into a sleek, white concrete mayonnaise factory with rounded glass-brick corners in Mid-City, at 1315 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway. The building became a local landmark.
Mayonnaise hadn’t been made in the factory since 2000. After 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the building was rehabilitated at a cost of $25 million by HRI Properties and JCH Development and converted into 72 mixed-income loft apartments with a leasing preference for artists. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Until the early years of the 20th century, cooks made mayonnaise at home. That changed in 1907, when Amelia Schlorer of Philadelphia started selling her own concoction after hearing people rave about it at church functions and other events. The first lot sold out quickly. The first commercial brand of mayonnaise — Mrs. Schlorer’s — was born.
- After seeing Schlorer’s success, Wesson-Snowdrift executives saw a way to use their soybean oil to provide mayonnaise — Blue Plate Mayonnaise, to be exact — to their customers in the southeastern United States. A line of Blue Plate products followed.
- When Blue Plate executives decided to leave Gretna, they settled on a Mid-City site and drove the first pilings in November 1941. A month later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, thrusting the United States into World War II. Demand for construction products for the war effort kept the new Blue Plate headquarters from opening until late 1943.
- In 1960, Hunt Foods of California bought Wesson Oil and Blue Plate Foods. Fourteen years later, W. Boatner Reily III, whose grandfather founded the Luzianne brand, bought Blue Plate from Hunt-Wesson and returned it to Louisiana, where it became part of Reily Foods Co. The landmark building was part of the transaction.
- Mayonnaise production in the Blue Plate building ended in 2000, when Reily Foods consolidated operations at a more modern plant in Knoxville, Tenn.
- The sign atop the building, familiar to generations of New Orleanians, has been changed from “Blue Plate Mayonnaise” to “Blue Plate Artist Lofts.”
For nearly 90 years, the Blue Plate brand and its iconic building have been inextricable parts of New Orleans, and Blue Plate products, including margarine, jelly, salad dressing and barbecue sauce, have been familiar sights in local kitchens. The popularity of all those Blue Plate food products apparently has extended to the Art Moderne building where the mayonnaise used to be made. This message is on its website: “Due to overwhelming demand and with no availability at this time, the waitlist for an apartment at Blue Plate Artist Lofts has been closed.”