What Once Was: K&B Drug Stores, Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets, and McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes

There are many businesses that have come and gone in New Orleans throughout its 304 year history, but there are a select few that have seared themselves into fabric of the city. These businesses may be gone today, but they are far from forgotten. In our third blog celebrating National Archives Month, the Office of the Clerk of Civil District Court explores three memorable businesses in New Orleans that are no longer operating: K&B Drug Stores, Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarkets, and McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes. We will detail the history of these locations as well as several notarial acts that highlight their presence in our historical records.

K&B Drug Stores

When pharmacist Gustave Katz met fellow pharmacist and Tennessee native Sydney Bestoff in the Spring of 1905 at Bestoff’s wedding in New Orleans, the two struck a friendship and partnership that dramatically shifted the way New Orleans, and later the greater Gulf South, shopped for health and home goods. Gustave Katz had already established a reputation as an exacting and fair pharmacist and businessman when he and Sydney Bestoff joined their talents in finance and pharmacology and opened the first of their Katz & Bestoff, Ltd. stores at 732 Canal Street later that year.

“New Site for Drugstore.” The Times-Democrat. May 24, 1905.

Katz & Bestoff—known locally and later legally by the name K&B—gained notoriety in greater New Orleans for their consistent customer service across an eventual empire of 186 stores. The chain excelled in providing a quality and value through their in-house brands. It also provided the city with the novelty of “K&B purple,” a particular shade “not quite lavender, not quite violet”1 that punctuated nearly everything associated with the company from the cashiers’ uniforms to the ink used in their newspaper advertisements.

Here in this Charles Zimple survey from 1833, we can see the property where the K&B story started. What is now 732 Canal Street appears in the second yellow box from the right.

Zimple, Charles Plan Sq. 225 Lot 21 1833 March 20. Plan Book 54 Folio 4

Within five years, Katz & Bestoff expanded to a second location at 837 Canal Street, just a block away from the original store. By 1910 the company moved Uptown, opening a third location on the northwest corner of Louisiana and St. Charles Avenues. This property can be seen in the 1887 Arthur de Armas survey pictured below.

Arthur de Armas Survey attached to an act before Hero Jr., Andrew 1887 May 20 Vol. 63 Act 12772.

By the early 1920s, Katz & Bestoff reached farther upriver, and opened a store at Carrollton and Oak. When Sydney Bestoff died unexpectedly in 1926, his son, Sydney Bestoff, Jr., who was also a registered pharmacist, took over his late father’s business interests in the company. When Gustave Katz passed about 14 years later, the Bestoff family purchased the Katz family’s remaining interests in K&B and became the sole owners.

The early 1960s saw another Bestoff descendent take the reins of K&B. Sydney Bestoff III, who was involved in the family business since 1939, expanded the K&B brand significantly starting in the mid-1960s. He opened stores on the North Shore in Slidell, followed by new locations in Baton Rouge and across several other Southern states including Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

K&B ran operations for the chain from offices leased in the John Hancock Building at 1055 St. Charles Avenue during this period of expansive growth. The company purchased that same seven-story low-rise in 1973 in an act before notary Arthur Mintz, as seen below.

Mintz, A. 1973 August 1 NA# 102742 Pg. 1.

The building was re-named K&B Plaza, and the extensive art collection included in the sale was the foundation both for Bestoff III’s passion for art and for philanthropy. Many of the pieces included in the sale of 1055 St. Charles have found new life at the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park.

Kuhn, Coleman Survey of 1055 St. Charles Avenue 1973 May 7; NA # 102742 Mintz, A. 1973 August 1.

K&B’s reign as the South’s next-door pharmacy and home goods chain came to an end in 1997, when Rite Aid purchased all 186 locations. The K&B brand, as well as the signature “K&B Purple,” however, live on in the memories of New Orleanians twenty-five years after the last store was shuttered.

Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets
Schwegmann’s Grocery Store at the Airline Highway location in 1954 Photo Credit: The Times-Picayune

Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets was a household name in the city of New Orleans for the better part of a century, and the company’s dedication to ultra-low prices and well-stocked shelves still lives on in the minds of many New Orleanians. When John G. Schwegmann purchased a series of lots on the corner of St. Claude and Elysian Fields Avenues in 1945 and opened the first store of his low-cost grocery empire the following year, he further stoked the Schwegmann family reputation of excellence in customer service and product availability.

This reputation blossomed in the Bywater in the mid-1800s when his grandfather, Garrett Schwegmann, Sr., worked in and later owned and operated a number of neighborhood groceries. Garrett Schwegmann, Sr’s son, Garrett Schwegmann, Jr., moved from overseeing a series of small stores to incorporating them under the name G. A. Schwegmann Grocery Company, Inc. on January 23, 1918 in an act before the notary Lawrence Janin, as seen below:

Janin, Lawrence M. 1918 January 23 Vol. 12 Act 7 pg. 1.

By all accounts, John G. Schwegmann, Jr. was an enterprising and industrious youngster, working long hours in one of his grandfather’s stores at what is now 901 Piety Street. The square on which that store once stood appears below in a survey from 1838 completed by Norbert Rillieux & Co.:

Norbert Rillieux and Co. 1838 Plan Book 18 Folio 2

Despite his immediate family’s modest means and his own decision to quit high school at Holy Cross at the age of fourteen, John G. Schwegmann, Jr. built a reputation as a diligent worker with a keen sense for business as he cycled through jobs as an electrician’s helper, debt collector, banker, and barber, finally settling on a career in real estate in the final years of the Great Depression. Schwegmann amassed the respect of business associates and garnered a cache of assets, settling on food merchandising as the means to his goal of sustained and substantial income.

On September 24, 1945 before the notary John T. Charbonnet, John G. Schwegmann, Jr. purchased 4 lots of ground in square 373 in the 3rd district fronting on St. Claude Avenue for the price of $22,000. The first Schwegman Brothers Giant Super Market at St. Claude and Elysian Fields opened to great fanfare in August of 1946, becoming a fixture in the Marigny both for its renowned variety of items for sale as well as its reputation for being a strong proponent for consumer rights against price-fixing. The first page of the sale as well as a survey of the purchased lots can be seen below:

Charbonnet, John T. 24 September 1945 Vol. 20 Act 180 Pg. 1.
    Charbonnet, John T. 24 September 1945 Vol. 20 Act 180 Survey.

Schwegmann’s expanded to other areas throughout New Orleans and even larger locations on Airline Highway in Jefferson Parish in 1950, the same year John G. Schwegmann reincorporated the chain in an act before notary John T. Charbonnet, seen below:

Charbonnet, John T. 1950 January 3 Vol. 29 Act 3 Pg. 1.

Schwegmann’s influence across the region expanded until 1995, when the company, then run by John G. Schwegmann, Jr.’s son, John F. Schwegmann, purchased 28 stores of a competing chain. Only six years later, in 1999, the company filed for bankruptcy, leading to the closing of all Schwegmann’s locations and the liquidation of most of their assets. The original store on St. Claude Avenue was leased by Robert Fresh Market from the Schwegmann family from 1999 until 2013, when it was purchased outright by Robert’s.

McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes

Those who relish the annual flood of king cakes, common in homes, offices, and gatherings from the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th to Ash Wednesday, often have fierce loyalties regarding their favorite bakers of the regional delight. Although the Carnival Season staple has been around for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the form of the pre-Lenten treat evolved into what is now found in dozens of New Orleans-area bakeries and hundreds of store shelves.

In 1935, Daniel Entringer, Sr. purchased the property at 4926-28 Prytania Street, seen below in a 1907 survey. The building housed McKenzie’s Bakery, a business struggling to turn a profit. The following year, Entringer purchased the business from Henry McKenzie for $83.00, kept the well-known moniker, and began a new chapter in king cake history.

Plan by de L’isle, Charles G.; in Grima, Edgar 1907 May 4 1907 Vol. 457 Act 71.

Before Daniel Entringer’s McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes revolutionized the king cake, the confection was closer to bread in flavor and texture. Instead of the plastic baby one finds in the cake, bakers used dried beans or pecan halves to denote the “king:” the person responsible for purchasing the next king cake and hosting the event when it was to be consumed. Entringer introduced tiny “China Dolls” to the cakes in the late 1930s, bolstering their popularity through wide-spread marketing. Eventually, Donald Entringer, who took the reins of McKenzie’s from his father in the 1950s, shifted to plastic baby dolls, which were then widely adopted by competing bakers.

Through the younger Entringer’s aggressive marketing, McKenzie’s expanded significantly. Their baked goods filled the shelves of their 47 stores as well as the shelves of Schwegmann’s, with whom they had a distribution contract. McKenzie’s grew further under Donald Entringer’s leadership, allowing the company to purchase a full-scale commercial bakery facility at 3847 Desire Parkway. That act of sale, recorded before the notary John Weinmann on July 30, 1964, is pictured below along with a survey of the property.

Weinmann, John G. 1964 July 30 Vol. 20 Act 67
Weinmann, John G. 1964 July 30 Vol. 20 Act 67

The signature purple, green, and gold sugar atop the cakes gradually gave way to various combinations of icings and fillings as tastes changed and competitions among bakeries grew fiercer. McKenzie’s, known for decades for having only colored sugar as their king cake topping, eventually catered to consumer demands and started producing king cakes with icing and different fillings to augment their sugar-topped staple.

McKenzie’s original location at 4926 Prytania Street. Photo Credit: Google Maps.

Unfortunately, McKenzie’s fate was thoroughly entwined with that of Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets, and when the latter filed for bankruptcy in 1999, it foreshadowed the end of the bakery chain. The Louisiana Department of Health fielded a complaint against McKenzie’s bakery plant on Desire Parkway and opened investigations into a number of their retail outlets, causing public confidence and sales to plummet. McKenzie’s closed the last of their shops in May of 2000, ending a sweet legacy that lives only in the memories and stories of New Orleanians.

The records featured here are just a sampling of what the Clerk’s office has to offer when researching business both of the past and present. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn more about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist. Be sure to check back next week for our next Archives Month Blog.

References:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: