L. J. Weet Company
The L.J. Weet Company, located at 114 McNeilly Road in Baldwin, at the corner of Ely Street, was a successful family operated Pickle and Olive manufacturer for many years. Shown above in 1948, the business was owned by Brookliners Leander "Lee" Weet and his wife Maria. The L.J. Weet Pickle and Olive Company was in operation from 1930 to 1964.
Leander Casper Weet was born in Pittsburgh on February 27, 1890, the oldest of the four sons of Louis (Ludivicus Vitkowszky) and Pauline (Stark) Weet. Louis and Pauline also had five daughters. The Weet family settled on Creedmoor Avenue in Brookline and were some of the original members of Resurrection Parish.
On May 12, 1915, Leander, age 25, married Maria (Mary) Magdeline Stark, the daughter of Anton Stark and Agnes Kundt, in Resurrection Church. The newlyweds purchased a home at 1533 Berkshire Avenue. Their first child, Leo Joseph, was born on March 26, 1916.
Leander was a salesman for Cruikshank Brothers and also a home-schooled saucier. Maria worked as a stenographer. Lee served in the 302nd Tank Battalion of the American Expeditionary Forces Tank Corps during World War I.
After the war, Leander returned to his home and family on Berkshire Avenue. He became a charter member of the Brookline American Legion Post #540 and a member of Resurrection's Holy Name Society. Daughter Virginia was born on February 20, 1920. Daughter Joanne followed ten years later, in 1930.
Around this time, Leander and Maria started a small business on McNeilly Road, near the train tunnel in what was then Overbrook Borough. The business stood along Saw Mill Run Creek on the site of the present-day McNeilly Ice Company.
Lee, as he was commonly known, worked as the salesman. Maria ran the office and did the bookkeeping. Lee was also the cook and developer of the recipes for the sweet pickle syrup, his own brand-named relish, mustard, barbeque sauce, and Weet's other signature condiments.
L.J. Weet Company's pickles and condiments were carried by many local merchants in Brookline as well as A & P Supermarkets. Weet supplied such franchises as Isaly's, Bard's Dairy Stores and Eat'n Park restaurants. His "Epicurean" sauce provided the unique taste for the early Big Boy sandwiches.
Gary Weslager, who worked at several Isaly's stores remembers that "we had their large jars of pickles. We sold them for nine cents each." Larry Hatch, long-time manager of Isaly's stores in the Pittsburgh area, was one of the company's major clients and a strong supporter of the man he called "Pickle" Weet:
H.J. Heinz Company made several attempts to purchase the thriving small business but Lee and Maria, often refered to in the local newspapers as the "pickle people," would not sell out. The L.J. Weet Pickle and Olive Company was no real competition to the Heinz Corporation, but having such a successful firm right in H.J.'s own backyard was an persistent itch that the mighty ketchup and pickle conglomerate just couldn't seem to scratch.
Sally Hill, granddaughter of Lee and Maria, worked at the pickle plant with her grandparents while growing up. She fondly remembers the delicious smell that filled the shop when her grandfather was cooking his syrups. She also learned to love olives imported directly from Spain. Sherry Menardi Loy's grandmother also worked for Weet. "My mom said she always smelled like pickles when she came home," Loy recalls.
Another Brookliner, Ed Walton, adds, "My family used their sweet pickle relish in particular. To this day, nothing I've seen has matched their exquisite taste. My favorite was Isaly's chipped ham on Town Talk bread lathered with Hellman's mayo and that great sweet relish."
Cheryl Proie Thomas recalls that Ely Street was referred to by those who lived in the area as Pickle Road. "I still call it that," she adds. Linda Rump, who grew up next to the pickle factory, remembers how Lee and Maria "were so nice to us as kids. They would let us wait inside for the bus to St. Pius X school."
Leander Casper Weet passed away in Presbyterian University Hospital on August 30, 1963, at the age of seventy-three. His funeral was held at DeBor Funeral Home and he was buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peter's Township.
His son, Leo Joseph Weet, died the following May, at age forty-eight. The pickle and olive business was sold and Maria retired. She lived another quarter century, passing on June 25, 1988 at the ripe-old age of ninety-four.
Note: Two of Leander's sisters, Beatrice and Hildegarde, went on to become nuns and are listed as Daughters of Resurrection Parish. Lee's brother Herbert married Maria's sister Jewell. They lived at 1307 Woodbourne Avenue. Jewell was a clerk for many years at the Paul N. Smith Agency on Brookline Boulevard.
* Photos and information provided by Brian Fornear and Sally Hill *
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