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A tour of the Chelsea Milling Company and Jiffy Foodservice plant in Chelsea, Mich. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

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It was 85 years ago this month when Mabel White Holmes, the wife of a Chelsea flour mill owner, revolutionized the home-baking industry by coming up with a way to make biscuits "so easy even a man could do it."

They named the mix "Jiffy," lifting part of a phrase said by a person who helped her mother out in the kitchen when she was a child, explained Mabel's grandson, Howard S. "Howdy" Holmes, president and CEO of the Chelsea Milling Co.

"When my grandmother and grandfather were trying to think of a name, my grandmother remembered her father would come home for lunch — as did many men in those days," said Holmes, 67. "There was a young lady who helped in my grandmother's kitchen — her name was Ula. And Ula would say, 'Mabel you run and tell your father those biscuits would be ready in a jiffy.' "

The name stuck, as did the now-iconic blue-topped boxes in which the mix was packed. People loved the convenience and the low price of the mix. Now, 128 years after the Holmes family bought a Chelsea flour mill, the family-owned company continues to thrive in the city. The company offers 19 Jiffy mixes and the products are shipped to all 50 states and other countries. And the company is undergoing a multi-million-dollar expansion as it moves forward to the next 85 years.

'White hockey puck' biscuit

"The story behind the idea is a simple one," said Holmes, a CART racer in the 1970s and '80s who drove in six Indianapolis 500 races before retiring from the circuit in 1998. He became CEO of the company in 1995.

His father and his uncle — twins — had a friend growing up who was being raised by a single father, he said. The Holmes boys invited their friend to come home with them for lunch one day.

"But he was a little hesitant because the friend's father had already made him a bag lunch," Holmes said recently at the Chelsea plant.

Eventually, the boy agreed. "My grandmother, knowing this young man was being raised by a single parent — a father — was curious to look into his lunch to see what his dad made him. Right on top was a biscuit, which she referred to as a 'white hockey puck.' "

Voila. An idea was born for the creation of an inexpensive mix so easy to use that even a single dad could whip out tasty biscuits in no time.

A family, not a corporation

Now, Jiffy holds about a 65 percent share of the prepared muffin-mix market, according to Holmes and industry estimates. It's most popular mix, the corn muffin mix, pulls down about a 90 percent share in that category. The company eschews advertising of any kind. Holmes has worked on reinvesting in the company and the employees. Employees make higher than the industry average, he said, and benefits are better than the industry average.

About seven years ago the company started to expand into institutional and food service industries because the premixed home-baking market continues to shrink. The company until recently delayed aggressive expansions that would better suit them for the institutional and food service markets.

"The reason we've been waiting to do it is because we looked at the demographics of our employees about 25 years ago and we could see that between 2006 and 2018 we'd have massive retirements. It made sense to me to try to time these things (so that) as our employee count was going down, we would expand into more modern equipment, which would require less people."

The modernization plan will include new equipment, increased storage capacity and is scheduled to be finished by fall of 2017.

The company employs about 300. Of those, 173 are eligible for retirement.

"It's about working for a family instead of a corporation," said Joe Seegert, a maintenance worker who, at 46, is still a ways away from retirement. "You're a person here, not a number. Howdy gives us his phone number. How many CEOs do that?"

Rich Stasiak, who is also involved in keeping equipment that, in some cases, is decades old running, says it's a good company, with good products.

"And to have somebody who owns the company be so available, that's pretty cool," Stasiak, 50, said.

It's all about continuing to move forward — even when you're running a milling company that was established in 1901.

"The most sincere comment is when the guys from Wall Street refer to us as 'retro hip.' How the hell do you get any better than that?" Holmes said. "This world is going to keep on spinning. Once in awhile we need to climb a tree and figure out where magnetic north is. And if we don't, we're history."

spardo@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2112

Jiffy Chicken Bake

Recipe from "Jiffy Mixes Recipes"

For the casserole

1 cup diced carrots

3/4 cup chopped onions

1/2 cup diced celery

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) cream of chicken soup

1 cup sour cream

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed

1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 teaspoon pepper

For the topping

1 cup Jiffy Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Mix

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan. In a saucepan combine the first four casserole ingredients. Simmer 20 minutes. In prepared pan, mix remaining ingredients. Add in first four ingredients and mix well. For the topping, in a separate bowl, combine first five topping ingredients. Add in 1 cup of cheese and blend well. Drop by tablespoon on top of casserole mix. Bake 40-45 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and return to oven until melted. Serves 10.

Per serving: 322 calories; 17 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 17 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 115 mg cholesterol; 705 mg sodium; 24 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Jiffy Quiche

Recipe from "Jiffy Mixes Recipes"

1 package Jiffy Pie Crust Mix

8 fresh mushrooms or 1 can (8 ounces) drained

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon margarine or butter

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

6 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons flour

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pie mix as directed on the package. Press into bottom of ungreased 9-inch round pan and set aside. In a skillet, sauté mushrooms and onions in margarine or butter. Set aside. Beat eggs then add milk, 1 cup cheese, cooked mushrooms and onion mixture, bacon, salt, mustard, garlic powder, red pepper, pepper and flour. Squeeze all water from spinach. Add to mixture and blend well. Pour into unbaked crust. Bake 35-40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake until melted. Serves 7.

Per serving: 406 calories; 26 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 58 percent calories from fat); 26 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 153 mg cholesterol; 716 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Jalapeno Corn Bread

Recipe from "Jiffy Mixes Recipes"

2 packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

3 eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 jalapeno peppers cored, seeded and diced

1 onion, chopped

1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan. Combine muffin mix, eggs, buttermilk, sour cream and peppers. Sauté onions in margarine or butter until clear. Add to mixture. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30-45 minutes. Serves 12.

Per serving: 243 calories; 12 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 70 mg cholesterol; 418 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Recipe from "Jiffy Mixes Recipes"

1 package Jiffy Devil's Food Cake Mix

1 egg

1/4 cup water

1 package Jiffy Fudge Frosting Mix

1 1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Blend cake mix, egg and water thoroughly. Spread evenly in prepared pan. In saucepan, heat frosting mix, milk and margarine or butter together, stirring often. When hot, carefully pour mixture over batter in pan. Bake 30-35 minutes. Serves 10.

Per serving: 263 calories; 10 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 34 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 17 g sugar; 26 mg cholesterol; 323 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Jiffy Party Cheese Loaf

Recipe from "Jiffy Mixes Recipes"

1 package Jiffy Pizza Crust Mix

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup hot water

1 tbsp margarine or butter, melted

2 tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese

4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

Paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch-by-4-inch loaf pan. Combine pizza crust and 1 cup cheese. Add hot water and mix well. Cover and let rise in warm place for 5 minutes. Knead 4-5 times on floured surface. Roll to a 12-inch-by-6-inch rectangle. Brush dough with melted margarine or butter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese and bacon. Roll up, starting at short end. Press edges to seal. Garnish with paprika and place in prepared pan. Bake 18-20 minutes. Serves 7.

Per serving: 200 calories; 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 19 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 22 mg cholesterol; 383 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Jiffy history

1887: The Chelsea roller mill is bought by the Holmes family

1901: Creation of the Chelsea Milling Co.

1930: Mabel White Holmes creates the Jiffy baking mix — one of the first commercial baking mixes in the country

1950: Jiffy corn muffin mix comes on the market

1995: Howard S. "Howdy" Holmes becomes president and CEO

2010: Chelsea Milling expands its test kitchens to a complete research-and-development center

April 2015: 85th anniversary of the creation of the Jiffy baking mix

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