The Cheese Stick Phenomenon, Part 1

In the 1990’s mozzarella sticks EXPLODED.  I’d never heard of them until they showed up in casual dining restaurants, frozen food aisles, fast food chains, any place any where, your own house, and your friend’s house unless they weren’t normal.  Cheese sticks became an expectation.

I’ve always been fascinated by this trend, and once brought my fascination up to my college roommate.  Incredibly, he said his dad was a major part of this mid-90s cheese stick boom.  You can imagine my face.  I was eager to find out more so he invited me to a dinner out to harass his father with all my questions.

It was the greatest lesson in how trends work I have ever received.  

I sat down with my roommate and his father, Dan, at a fast-casual taco grill in a nice strip mall cornerstoned by a half full IMAX.  Dan’s family manufactured food processing equipment on a regionally successful scale through the 70’s and 80’s.  Straight out of college he convinced his own father the company should sell food products as well, not just the equipment.  They allowed for a single double lane collator and set their hopes high.

Dan crushed it.  By the third year he had 15 separate products under three different brands in distribution to over 350 stores.  He was also white labeling a range of products for a statewide convenience store chain hoping to expand their own market.  His instincts appeared to be spot on.

Of course, there’s a very specific danger in finding success too early.  Remember, this story is about trends.  They don’t always work they way you might think.


… continued in Part 2