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Van de Kamp's at 70: 3 Chips Off the Old Block

September 13, 1985|Mike Eberts

Chocolate chip cookies can sure get a person sentimental. Just the other day Ray Zimmer, 83, was eating some of Van de Kamp's little gems and remembering how he came to work as a delivery man for the Glendale-based bakery in 1918.

It seems the lure was the chance to drive a real car. (Not too many companies had made the switch from horses yet.) But the funny thing was, Zimmer said, after he was hired he was sent to a nearby garage to learn to drive.

After an hour's lesson, the mechanic decided Zimmer was qualified and wrote him out a driver's license. Nothing more. No tests, no trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. And Zimmer, who stayed with Van de Kamp's only a year before deciding he wanted to go into business for himself, didn't realize the license had to be periodically renewed. It stood him in good stead until he was stopped for a traffic violation in the mid-1940s.

Back to Van de Kamp's, however. It seems Zimmer's daughter Judy found an old picture of her father in the Van de Kamp's delivery truck and sent it to the company which, by a happy coincidence, is celebrating its 70th birthday this month through October. And that's how Zimmer happened to have traveled up from his home in Redlands with his wife and three daughters to see how the old place looks and exchange a few reminisces with other old-timers over chocolate chip cookies.

Van de Kamp's is not short on old-timers. Of the company's 600 employees, 200 have been there more than 25 years. But the longest of the long-term is Charlotte Scott, 81, who came to work in the bookkeeping department for $18 a week in 1935 and is still there--maybe because she's had a few raises since then. Next in line was maintenance man Al Lazzaretto, 61, who joined the firm in 1941 "for 45 cents an hour and all I could eat."

Apparently you don't lose your sweet tooth working in a place like Van de Kamp's. Though over the years, the health department has made it illegal to snag a cookie fresh from the oven as it comes down the conveyor belt to be boxed. In fact, as far as Scott and Lazzaretto were concerned, their fondness for Van de Kamp's pies, cakes, doughnuts and cookies was about the only thing that hadn't changed since their early days.

Lazzaretto remembered how "we used to crack our own eggs. Now, we get stainless steel tubs of pre-cracked--though they're still fresh--eggs." And the equipment, "it's still changing. We only have two original pieces left. One's a mixer and the other's a flour sifter. We have to have those because they do special work."

Scott has gone from hand-posting all the accounts to relying on a computer. But the biggest change, she said, was when the company switched from operating its own shops to selling through supermarkets. That marked the beginning of the end for such Van de Kamp's trademarks as the shops in the shape of a big windmill and the Dutch-girl dressed saleswomen. "I miss them," she sighed.

As for Zimmer, touring the plant and amazed at the prospect of 15,000 packages of cookies coming out of a seven-hour shift, there was the appreciative exclamation: "I'm still a kid when it comes to cookies."

'Live Grenaide'

It all sounds vaguely like one of those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies where the little fella leaps atop a soapbox and exclaims, "Let's put on a show."

Tim Kiley lives in a big Victorian house near USC with several friends. They started planning a party, then became inspired by the recent "Live Aid" concert to do something more purposeful. They sent out invitations to all their friends, secured the services of several local bands, built a stage in their backyard, talked USC into donating sound equipment and were in business.

The result was "Live Grenaide," a mini-benefit for six local nonprofit organizations held last Saturday night in the backyard of Kiley's home. Eight acts (six bands and two solo vocalists) performed from 5:30 p.m. to almost 1 a.m. About 300 persons showed up, according to Kiley, paying $5 for admission and free soft drinks, with some donating more. Kiley estimated that the concert turned a profit of $450.

"We got a great response," said Kiley, who feared that "Live Grenaide" might bomb. That fear seemed plausible at the start of the program, when only about 20 persons were in attendance. "But then they came in one by one," he said.

Perhaps the 23-year-old Kiley could use some aid himself. After two years as a chemistry major at USC, he "ran out of money," dropped out of school and now drives a truck. "Sometimes your life doesn't follow the course you originally set up," he said.

Now, he has visions of founding a permanent nonprofit organization and putting together another "Live Grenaide" concert, albeit on a larger scale.

Computing Professors

Eighteen professors in the School of Engineering at UCLA are spending two weeks on the other side of the lectern, worrying about homework while brushing up on the world of computers in an eight-hour-a-day intensive course.

"Almost all of them will have to use computers in the future," said Tom Tugend, a UCLA public information officer. "If their students are going to use computers, they had better stay a step ahead."

Tugend said he was invited "into the 20th" (and consequently into the course) after a dean saw him pounding away on a manual typewriter.

The course is being taught in a futuristic classroom with a computer terminal on each desk. The instruction begins with the basics of computing, then quickly develops in complexity, covering the latest breakthroughs in computer design. The course ends with a session on the legal and social implications of computing.

Tugend said most of the professors in the course have some familiarity with computers, but "they are not the ultimate experts." What expertise they do have is likely to be outdated. "Computer technology turns over every three or four years," he said.

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