Philadelphia Food Companies: The Story Behind Philly’s Delicious Businesses

Philadelphia is a city filled with iconic foods. The cheesesteak, the pretzels, the tomato pie. And, we’ve even invented quite a few world-famous foods here in Philly. Now we’d like to shine a light on some of the deserving food businesses that were founded in Philadelphia. Some are big, some small, some you’ve never heard of before, some you may be familiar with but never knew they were started in Philadelphia. We researched extensively, taste-tested, and chatted with founders to get the inside scoop on why they chose our city to build their empires. Settle in, because we’ve got some impressive Philadelphia food companies to brag on.
Philadelphia-Founded Food Companies & Businesses
La Colombe Torrefaction – To put it plainly, founders Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti are insanely good at doing stuff. Besides creating a coffee company that is inventive, award-winning, and instrumental to the ethical trade movement, their other accomplishments are almost unbelievable. Like that Todd Carmichael hosts two Travel Channel series, and is a world-record holder for achieving a solo trek across Antarctica’s coast to the South pole in under 40 days, the first American to complete the journey, (after which he headed straight back to Philly for his favorite pizza). Or that JP Iberti was originally a pilot who was more fascinated with coffee roasting, and ditched the skies to focus on creating a beautiful coffee experience enjoyed in impeccably designed spaces. While their new draft latte is set to take over the world, we’re proud that Carmichael has been quoted as referring to Philadelphia as a big part of their success, stating “I don’t think that La Colombe would be where it is today or continue to be where we’re going if we started in another city.”

John and Kira's Chocolates - Philadelphia Food Companies
John & Kira’s – John and Kira started their business in the city of brotherly love, in part to help showcase the high quality produce coming from Philadelphia’s farms and urban schools. John stated, “The chocolates are almost like a window into the stories of kids doing urban, public school gardening or farmers doing biodynamic, organic farming.” Their very first year of operation, they appeared on the cover of Gourmet Magazine with the headline “We Found Our Favorite Chocolates”, (watch this WHYY feature to see how John used the magazine article when proposing to Kira). Beautifully boxed with unique touches like trivia facts adorning the packaging beneath the chocolates, their goods are still produced using high quality ingredients nearly 20 years after the start of their company. Manufactured in Philadelphia, stand-out ingredients include honey from Draper’s Apiaries in Millerton, PA, (formerly the provider of honey to the White House). We feature John & Kira’s chocolates on some of our Philadelphia food tours, so we can confirm that they’re consistently a crowd pleaser.

TastyKakes – Imagine creating a product that sold for 10 cents a piece, and then grossing $300,000 in sales your first year. That’s what Philip Baur and Herbert Morris accomplished in 1914 when they introduced individually wrapped snack-sized cakes to Philadelphia, baked and delivered fresh daily. While their current status in Philly is complicated, (Philadelphia Magazine did a great long-form journalism piece on the TastyKake legacy and future), TastyKakes impact on Philadelphia’s culture is undeniable. This iconic Philly bakery also has fascinating trivia…like that Betty White performed in TastyKake commercials before she was famous. Or that Philadelphia celebrity chef Marc Vetri spent $1000 in cake shipping costs alone to ensure that he could get TastyKakes to California for his brother’s 40th birthday party. Or the entertaining tale of Bob Hamill, the TastyKakes Kake Krusader that the company sent to San Diego to spread the love of their brand, dressed in a TastyKakes-themed superhero outfit and matching ventriloquist doll, (we can’t make this stuff up). Live long, TastyKakes.

Acme Markets – Many are surprised to learn that this grocer got its start by South Philly Irish immigrants Samuel Robinson and Robert Crawford back in 1891. With 179 stores today throughout the Delaware Valley, it’s not always immediately thought of as a Philadelphia food company. An interesting blog called Acme Style seeks to preserve their history, with well-researched articles in their archives and strangely fascinating then & now photos of local Acme’s.

Philadelphia Barbecue Company - Food Companies Founded In Philly
Philadelphia Barbecue Company – We really love this stuff. Founded in South Philly by cousins Kamal Bloodsaw & Nathaniel Swint, their company immediately began receiving attention from the likes of Philly’s top food bloggers and news outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer. But don’t anticipate typical barbecue sauce, because this is far from it. “Naming our sauce Philadelphia Barbecue Company was a no brainer, because it doesn’t taste anything like any other barbecue sauce out there. It’s different, just like the people of Philadelphia.”, the owners shared with us. They also let us in on a little known aspect of their sauce – that each variety is numbered to correlate with an important year in Philly’s history. For example, take their Original Recipe No. 1682 – it’s the year William Penn founded Philadelphia. Food combined with history is kind of our thing, so we can appreciate this extra touch.

Frankford Candy & Chocolate Company – While you may not immediately recognize the name, you’ve likely enjoyed their products. Founded in 1947 by Sam Himmelstein, they’re now in their 4th generation as a family-owned business, and report being the the largest marketer of licensed confections and gifts in the United States. Some of their top accomplishments include being one of the largest producers of chocolate rabbits in the nation with over 100 varieties, as well as producing Wonder Balls, an American confection similar to the UK’s Kinder Surprise Eggs. They’ve also created lucrative licensing agreements with entertainment companies, allowing them to produce items like Spongebob Squarepants Krabby Patties and Marvel Comics-themed candies. Read about their current development and challenges here.

Amoroso’s Baking Company– This 100-year-old family-owned company played an important role in Philadelphia’s cheesesteak history. In the 1930s, cheesesteaks were gaining popularity but hit difficulties because, as Leonard Amoroso tells it, “They were using hot dog rolls, and hot dog rolls couldn’t contain the onions and the peppers and the toppings that would go on the steak. The roll would kind of melt and fall apart”. So Amoroso’s famously created a roll that could hold up to the cheesesteak, allowing the cheesesteak to contain multiple toppings without falling apart. Check out Amoroso’s Excursions TV feature to see how their rolls begin from a whopping 500 pounds of dough to create over 60,000 rolls each day, before heading to their destinations in Philadelphia and the 43 states they’ll be enjoyed in. While in recent years they’ve relocated production to New Jersey, the company remains headquartered in Philadelphia.

Mister Softee | Philadelphia Food Companies
Mister Softee – Two Philadelphia brothers, William and James Conway, created the very first modern ice cream truck in America, on March 17th, 1956. As it was St. Patrick’s Day, they served only green ice cream for their very first day of operation. Now the largest franchisor of soft serve ice cream in the United States, Eater did a great Mister Softee piece highlighting their franchisees and how they avoid turf wars. Another fun fact: That Mister Softee jingle actually has lyrics.

Faked Baked – Founder Cara Fuhrman grew up in a health conscious household, and has since retained a passion for nutrition. With her company, she strives to show the world that eating well can be delicious. Part of the reason gluten-free, healthy desserts remain somewhat elusive despite the demand is because, quite simply, they fall apart. Gluten-free treats are notorious for being crumbly. Cara has brilliantly solved this by creating her dessert jars, which layer flavors and textures that perfectly complement one another while remaining gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free, and can be eaten straight from the jar – joining the ranks of other great gluten-free eats in Philadelphia. Why did she choose Philadelphia as the home to her company? Cara told us, “I have found philly to be the type of community where everyone supports each other”. Agreed.

Bassett’s Ice Cream – America’s oldest ice cream company and a 5th generation Philadelphia family-owned company, they’ve been in operation over 150 years. Their very first batch of ice cream was made using a mule-turned churn by Lewis Dubois Bassett, a Quaker school teacher and farmer, in 1861. Some of their many accomplishments include serving ice cream to then US President Barack Obama, expanding operations to China, and having been the very first lessee to sign with Reading Terminal Market when they opened in 1892. Fun Fact: In 1866, 5 years after that first batch of ice cream, they gained a competitor by the name of William A. Breyer who sold his ice cream first from his home, and then from his horse and wagon in the streets of Philadelphia. You guessed it – that company became Breyer’s Ice Cream. While no longer a Philadelphia company, Breyer’s now produces more than a million gallons of ice cream a year, and is owned by the world’s biggest ice cream manufacturer.

Hank's Soda Company - Philadelphia Food Companies
Hank’s Gourmet Beverages – As gourmet soda producers, Hank’s has made a name for themselves in Philly, and throughout America. Who’s Hank? Well, it’s a family-run business, named after the father of current owner Tony Salvatore. Originally established in June of 1995, they’re now sold in over 40 states as well as parts of Canada and Australia. They’re known for their signature creamy feel, and initially got their start as placements in restaurants before expanding to supermarkets and beyond. For Northeasterners, you’ve likely enjoyed birth beer before – but Hank’s is bringing it to the rest of America. What we love is the versatility of Hank’s, outside of solely a beverage. Besides the more obvious choice of using Hank’s to create a killer ice cream float bar, we suggest cooking with Hank’s soda. Their famous root beer is a great match for this Root-Beer Glazed Salmon. Fun Fact: Root Beer was manufactured in Philadelphia in the late 1800s, making it another food invented in Philadelphia.

Better Together Brownies – Better Together was created in 2010 by Todd and Kestra Kelly. Another husband and wife team running a Philadelphia food company that we admire, they danced to the song Better Together by Jack Johnson at their wedding, which later became the name of their company. While not native to Philly, “We had visited Philadelphia many times and fell in love with Philly and specifically the food scene, with so many diverse and amazing restaurants. We quit our jobs in DC and moved to Philly – because this is where we wanted to start our business.”, Kestra told us. “Philly has the best customer base, a no BS kind of people who support the businesses they love.” Their decadent brownies, (chewy and chocolatey with just the right amount of flaky crust), are now available in 7 states, and growing.

Pantry Boy – Watching Pantry Boy’s Kickstarter video, we knew these guys were legit when they state, “We have shipped thousands of Pantry Boy boxes as part of our initial proof of concept, to 27 Eastern US states”. Many companies would be happy to be in 27 states, but for CEO and Founder Budo Bunal, this is just the beginning for his Philadelphia food company. Currently located in Manayunk, they are a meal delivery service that ships portioned foods to your door, which can be immediately cooked on a stovetop or popped in the slow cooker at your convenience. In some cases, they even supply the slow cooker. Their goal? Of course to help busy humans save time by delivering healthful, delicious meals to their doorstep…but there’s more. They’re also looking to reduce America’s 40% food waste, and to help support our nation’s sustainably farming efforts.

Honorable Mentions:

Campbell Soup Company, Camden NJ – Turns out that Campbell’s has a fascinating history, with their story starting back in 1860 in a small canning factory in Camden. They initially canned tomatoes, vegetables, jellies, condiments, and mincemeat before focusing primarily on soups. In the late 1800s, the owner hired his nephew, who was a chemist, who developed a way to create condensed soup, which allowed them to ship at much lower rates and expand to California, making Campbell’s one of the first coast-to-coast food businesses in America. In the early 1900s, they pushed soup as a base ingredient for easy-to-make recipes, writing their own cookbooks and recipes which further solidified their business as America’s go-to pantry item. Today, Campbell’s remains the #1 producer of soups in the world, and while not one of the Philadelphia food companies, they’re still based just over the Delaware River in Camden.

Rita’s Italian Ice, Bensalem PA – Immediately outside Northeast Philadelphia, Rita’s was started when Bob Tumolo aspired to make some extra cash by selling water ice out a front porch window. Named after his wife, Rita, (and sold the same year he divorced her),there are now over 600 locations worldwide.

Wawa Food Markets, Wawa PA – We knew that Wawa was local, but not that there was actually a town called Wawa. Similar to Manayunk, Wawa was a booming mill town in the 1700s, settled on creeks and named for the Ojibwe word for “wild goose”, as many were attracted to the area’s grasses and abundance of water. And according to visitors, Wawa remains a beautiful place.