Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remembering Foleys and Their Fabulous Cheese Spreads

Cheese spreads are one of my favorite appetizers. These are two old favorites that have been in my repertoire all of my married life. They were inspired by the deli, located in the downtown store at Foleys’ department store in Houston. One has a sharp cheddar base with a bit of heat and the other a blue cheese flavored with port wine.

Foleys, one of the grand department stores in downtown Houston on Main that occupied the entire city block plus the parking garage across the street, was an institution, where generations of Houstonians shopped. The downtown store was like a city with its nine floors, plus a full basement that housed the budget departments. Foleys was one of the first buildings in downtown to have a tunnel that allowed people to get to the parking garage without having to wait to cross the street. You could buy everything your heart desired there. The escalators were state of the art and they whisked you up from the basement through the entire store all the way up to the ninth floor and were by far the fastest escalators I’ve ever been on in my entire life. At Foleys you could find fashion attire for the entire family, select bridal china and silver, purchase your baby’s first shoes, furnish your entire home from linens to a dining room table, or outfit your house with major appliances and televisions. During your visit you could have lunch in one of several restaurants, or browse for the latest best seller in their well stocked bookstore, while waiting for your prescription to be filled in the pharmacy.

Going to Paris? Foley's travel agency could book your flight while you shopped for luggage and got a trendy hairstyle in the beauty salon. Perhaps you are only in town for a short time with a very long shopping list and very little time – a personal shopper will be dispatched to your rescue. Men could leave their car in the auto department of the parking garage to be fitted with new tires while they shopped for all of the latest in sporting goods & golf clubs or checked out the newest advances in cameras. On the way down to get his car, perhaps stop at the Men’s Grill for lunch with the guys. Many generations of Houston children sat on Santa Claus’ lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas after making their selections in Foleys extensive toy department. And of course you could purchase their fabulous cheese spreads which I loved so much in the deli.

I began my career at Foleys in the downtown store, recruited off campus in the late sixties from the University of Arkansas where I was working on my masters, to join their executive management training program in fashion merchandising. At that time women weren’t in management positions in business, especially in the South. I envisioned a world where women had the same opportunities in the business world as men. Unfortunately there weren’t any Sheryl Sandburgs telling us how to “lean in” or role models such as Marissa Mayers, currently the CEO at Yahoo, showing young female college graduates how to climb the corporate ladder. A career in fashion merchandising was one of the only places that I found that welcomed women into the fold of the business world, and men for that matter, without prejudice based on race or sexual preferences. Foleys & Federated department stores were what I call “the major leagues” in the business and there were plenty of women role models to be found in management there. I consider my experience at Foleys as a way of finishing graduate school and the lessons I learned there were invaluable throughout my career.

Their blue logo 

In my early career, my whole life revolved around Foleys downtown. I found my husband at Foleys, or as he tells it, he found me. As a trainee on a break, I sat about six stools down at the same lunch counter from Mohammad Ali, generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sports history, as he and his manager and a friend were sipping sodas, acting like normal, everyday shoppers.  The omelet king Rudy Standish, who earned that title by making omelets for JFK’s inaugural breakfast and later flipping his famous omelets for Princess Diana, demonstrated his famous pan in the fifth floor Azalea Terrace dining room.  As a young cook I was so impressed that I rushed to the house wares department and bought his pan in harvest gold (remember harvest gold?) and made my very first omelet. When the astronauts returned to Houston after their walk on the moon and were honored as local heroes with a huge parade in downtown Houston on Main Street, I stood with my friends and waved and threw confetti from the rooftop of Foleys.

When I joined Foleys it was a part of Federated Department stores. They prided themselves in customer service. In the downtown store, lunch hour for office workers from the surrounding buildings was from twelve to one o’clock and the store would be packed with shoppers. Twelve to one at Foleys was called “Holy Hour.” Every executive from the CEO on down was on the sales floor assisting customers during twelve to one o’clock and there were no exceptions or excuses for ever missing Holy Hour. The customer came first and was always guaranteed satisfaction. As the story goes, a young boy once told his mother, “I wish I had gotten the measles at Foleys. Then I could have taken them back.” After I left, Foleys changed ownership and continued to build more branches throughout Houston, then on to other cities in Texas and the southwest. Towards the end once again they became part of the Federated group. Soon all of the Federated stores, with the exception of Bloomingdales, became Macy’s stores.

I am still in shock that this past September the downtown store was imploded (link here to pictures) and a downtown Houston landmark went up in smoke. As one Houstonian said, “They blew up Foleys. What’s next, the Astrodome?” The Astrodome, once dubbed the 8th wonder of the world, was the world’s first multi-purpose domed sports stadium and had just been completed when I moved to Houston, fresh out of college. As I write, the fate of the aging Astrodome is unknown and may just become a part of history too, just like downtown Foleys.   .

Of course Foleys deli in the downtown Houston store and their fabulous cheese spreads that I adored are a fading memory and a part of their demise. Foleys had several versions of cheese spreads and I’ve tried for ages to get the original recipes with no luck, even when I worked there. Over and over again I experimented with them, tasting the originals alongside my own, and finally created these as close as I possibly could to the originals. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. These are spreadable cheeses and you don’t want the consistency to be too thick or dense, hence the use of cottage cheese.

Foleys Cheddar Cheese Spread
My rendition from My Carolina Kitchen

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, or a combination of cheddar and Edam, cut into ½” cubes & chopped in a food processor for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (yellow cheddar is recommended for color)
8 tablespoons small curd cottage cheese, or more if necessary
4 tablespoons mild to medium Mexican picante or taco sauce (not the chunky kind)
6 tablespoons chopped jalapeno peppers, seeded and ribs removed
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian frying pepper, plus more for garnish

Pulse cheddar cheese cubes in a food processor, then add the cottage cheese and picante sauce. Process once again with all of the peppers. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more cottage cheese. Taste for seasonings. Should be mildly hot but not overly hot. Can add a dash or two of Shirachi if you wish, which was unknown to me at the time or leave some of the seeds in the jalapenos for a spicier spread. Will keep several days, covered, in the refrigerator. Best served with thin, crispy Finn Crisp, 100% rye crackers, which I always bought in the deli to go with their cheese spread.

Foleys Blue Cheese Port Wine Spread
My rendition from My Carolina Kitchen

8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into ½” chunks
2 oz cream cheese, cut into ½” chunks, we used low fat
2 oz blue cheese, crumbled into chunks
4 tablespoons small curd cottage cheese, we used low-fat
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon port wine
Chopped green onion tops, 4 – 6 tablespoons

Pulse cheddar cubes in a food processor for about 30 seconds until it begins to crumble. Add cream cheese, blue cheese, cottage cheese, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, and port wine. Continue to process until the mixture resembles a spread. Add the green onion tops and process until smooth. Will keep several days, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve with crackers or crudités.

I want to add a PS to this. The Foleys I describe is the downtown store in Houston. Many of the things I remember about the downtown store were sadly not in the branches.

If you would like to read more about the history of Foleys, Lasker Meyer, the son of one of Foleys original owners who became President and later CEO, has written a very comprehensive history in his book, Foley’s, a part of the Images of America series. The Department Store Museum has some great photos of various department stores, link here. You also might enjoy The World of Department Stores by Jan Whitaker, link here.

Do you have a favorite department store that brings back memories for you?

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.
Have a great weekend everyone.


  1. I love each of these dips. Thanks for the recipes Sam. I suppose this is the same Foleys that we had in Denver. However, it was just a department store. There was no deli - darnit. :) Pinning these.

  2. Wonderful cheese spreads! I particularly like the blue cheese one.



  3. I just showed Andrew the implosion. Amazing! He did his undergrad at the University of Houston and remembers Foleys. Thanks for the interesting post--I finished my morning coffee reading about an amazing department store. Those cheeses look delicious.


  4. I liked your story of Foleys!
    You found your husband:)

    You sound..still after all these years impressed with your start and working days at Foleys..That is a great tribute to a store..Bet you were quite the exemplary emloyee also:)

    Do I remember Harvest Gold?

    One of our bathrooms..and we picked it!In the early 70's..

    All white for me now thanks..
    Never heard of these cheese spreads..Thank you!!
    Happy Holidays ..too.

  5. I love your story. I love those times. Thanks for's been an enjoyable few minutes reading and having my coffee. Oh, and the cheese spreads do sound good too.

  6. Sam, I too, love cheese spreads and I love classy department stores. By the time I came around many of the stores were becoming less elaborate, but I would have loved to have visit the Foleys you describe. We still see some elements of this grandeur at Macy's Herald Square, but it's not the same.

  7. Those cheese spreads sound wonderful. I really enjoyed reading about Foley's. There was a store in Detroit, called Hudson's. It was several stories tall and you could find anything there as well. I remember the specialty of their restaurant was chicken pot pie and it was delicious!

  8. I loved reading all about your history at Foley's. How awful that they blew it up. I'm glad though that you have your version of their cheese spread! Cheese spreads are always one of my favorite stops on the party tables.

  9. They both sound amazing Sam. I am always looking for new recipes and these fit the bill. I remember sitting at the lunch counter at Woolworths downtown having an ice cream float with my family and later on with friends for a Salisbury steak of Hot Turkey Sandwich. It does not sound like Foleys but I do have fond memories.

  10. Sam, I too have fond memories of a great downtown department store. It was J.L. Hudson in downtown Detroit. Like Foley's downtown store, you could buy just about anything at Hudson's downtown location. It was an adventure just visiting the store. The Christmas windows were spectacular too... In the early 70's I worked for May Department Stores and I was able to visit many of their downtown locations (Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, Akron and Washington DC) before the end of that retailing era. My wife and I also had a chance to explore Marshall Fields in Chicago before it changed hands and was absorbed into blandness... As for the cheese spreads, thanks for the recipes! We love cheese spreads... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  11. What an interesting post. It sounds like it was a great place to work. It seems all the stores like that were gone by the time I grew up - customer service was definitely out in the department stores where I lived. lol And the cheese spreads sound delicious!

  12. great post and insight into your career sounds like a magical place to have worked shame its not there now and delicious cheese spreads

  13. I'd love to try the cheddar one Sam, the jalapenos sound good! You found some pretty crackers too. Sounds like Foley's was a great place to work and you have many fond memories:@)

  14. Both cheese spreads are wonderful! I love particularly the blue cheese one.

  15. Foleys must have been an amazing place to start your career, Sam! We never had a store quite that all-encompassing but I do miss our downtown Milwaukee Gimbels store which later became Marshall Fields very much.

    I echo your feeling on cheese spreads and these both sound delicious!

  16. I love good cheese spreads, and I will definitely give these as a try. Foley's sounds like the Jordan Marsh I grew up with in Fort Lauderdale. I loved that store, and was sad when it changed.

    I am having a Holiday Home Tour on my blog. Days one through four are posted with more tour days to follow. I hope you will come by to visit and say hello.

  17. I'm saving the recipes for the cheese spreads!

  18. These sound really good. Love the old department store recipes.

  19. Rich's Department store in downtown Atlanta was much the same as you describe Foley's. it was a special place and people dressed up to go shopping. Lunch on the bridge connecting the main store to the parking lot was such a treat. It was so sad to see it go. I have wonderful memories of that store.

  20. That was a fascinating bit of history Sam. How lucky you were to be a part of it. The photos of the cheese spread are outstanding. Where did you get those fresh herbs? I remember the Ivey's stores in Florida.

  21. Book marking this one ...
    Thank you for the recipe.

  22. Hi Sam,
    Oh to return for a moment to the grand old stores with personalized service with courteous caring personal and quality merchandize made right here in the USA. I love Foley's and my friends and I surely missed it when it was swallowed up by Macy's. I am so happy to have these awesome recipes, great recipe's from a great time in our history.

    Thanks so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and enjoy your weekend!
    Miz Helen

  23. Great timing! I need to whip up an appetizer for an ornament exchange on Monday...and your cheese spreads have just made the short list. Happy holidays, Sam!!!

  24. What a marvelous post, Sam! So many great memories...and where you met your husband as well. Loved reading all about it and recipes from the wonderful stores are always winners! Love your photos.
    Yes, I have great memories too...of Hudson's in Detroit. In the US, only Macy's was a bigger store, and barely. We'd eat lunch at their counter, so crowded you had a line of people standing directly behind you while you were eating, waiting for your seat. The branches were never as good as the main store (are they ever?). They blew up the building in 1998, although it had been closed for a while already.

  25. It is so sad that, one by one, these wonderful old institutions disappear. We had a similar department store in downtown Portland that everybody loved. It's where ladies lunched when they went shopping, and if you were going to meet anyone downtown it was "under the clock in Meier & Frank. There wasn't a person in the city who didn't know where that was. Sadly, it was purchased by some conglomerate and went straight downhill. Your post brings back lots of wonderful memories, especially at Christmas time. Your recipes are a nice remembrance of grander days. I'm going to check out the links you provided. I am fascinated by the history of these old stores.

  26. What a wonderful post, Sam! Tampa had Maas Bros. -- which had a restaurant, bookstore, record department, as well as all the standard departments. It could be a day-long experience when I was tagging along behind my mother or grandmother. They also had segregated water fountains... not everything was good about the good old days.

    I'll be trying these cheese spreads!.

  27. Wow Sam, after reading about Foley's I feel like these recipes should be kept in a treasure chest! They sound and look wonderful. It's so sad that the grand old department stores have so often gone the way of the newspaper. As much as I enjoy learning about new advancements, technology, trends, etc. there's nothing like the jewels of the past. Foley's certainly sounds like one. I grew up near Milwaukee and we had The Boston Store, it was a similar huge downtown store and I have such fond memories. Thanks for sharing a wonderful part of you.

  28. Interesting post, Sam! I enjoyed reading about Foley's and your experiences. I've never heard of it, but it sounds a lot like Lazarus, another great Federated Store way back when we lived in Ohio. Then in Louisville, years later, it was all about young Cassius Clay, later to be Mohammed Ali.
    My absolute favorite store was Marshall Fields in Chicago. I loved it, especially at Christmas time. And now it's Macy's, and nothing like Marshall Fields.

    I'm with you on cheese spreads being a favorite appetizer, and these are a must try. They both sound delicious, and unique with cottage cheese. Thanks for the great recipes!

  29. Those big department stores used to be so much fun. I remember going shopping to Burdine's and Jordan Marsh, now defunct, with my grandmother and having lunch at the restaurant. To this day, I can remember exactly what we had for lunch! Jordan Marsh used to be famous for their blueberry muffins which I have posted on my blog. I remember Gloria De Haven having lunch there one day. She had a fantastic hairdo, couldn't take my eyes off it and neither could anyone else at the restaurant.

    Like you I was supposed to be a buyer. Majored in business with a minor in merchandising. Not many choices for us women in the business world in the 60's. I got married instead. Much later, after my divorce, I was hired in 1977 by Merrill Lynch as one of their first women brokers. Imagine 15 years had to go by before Wall Street was forced to open up to us women. They didn't know what do do with us first timers.

    Thanks for sharing this marvelous story Sam. Those recipes look great. Would have never thought of the cottage cheese.

  30. We continue to have more things in common…I didn't know or maybe I didn't remember that you lived in Houston. My father worked at Sears downtown, retired and then went to work for Foley's in Sharpstown. Were you working at Foley's when they built the 2/3 replica of the Trevi fountain for their special Italian event, it was outstanding. Thank you for bringing back such wonderful memories of my life in Texas and this delicious cheese spread.

  31. This is worth diving into head first. Oh, YUM!!!

  32. Sam-I loved this post! Fascinating history about Foley's : ) And the recipes look yummy as always! Merry Christmas!

  33. First off, I sure do remember Harvest Gold! I so enjoyed this article - it was terrific reading about your work history and about Foley's. I have neverr been to the store, but it certainly is famous. How sad that the building is gone - and they call it progress.

    I also remember Cheese Spreads. I love them still. These sound great. Have a wonderful Christmas!.

  34. Beside our love of delicious healthy food we seem to have retail in common. I worked for Macy both in Herald Square and in Brooklyn. The Manhattan store is not quite as lovely as it once was but it is still pretty special. I also was recuited from college and went through there exective training program. I meet my husband in retail, but not at Macy's… wonderful story and spread. Pinning it.

  35. Sam, I came back to copy your recipe, and I wanted to comment on the demise of the wonderful Southern department stores. I loved them. I loved the fancy elevators, the marble, the beauty salons, and the fine clothing. I always think of how we had to dress to shop. And I remember kid gloves and hats and the wonderful perfume sections with imported perfumes. My mother's signature fragrance was Blue Hour by Guerlain.

    It is criminal that they destroyed that building. I understand your sense of loss. And how much worse it would be to have met your true love there and then see that special spot blown to smithereens. For years, I worked to try to save buildings in the town where we used to live. We had some losses, but fortunately we had some wins, too. But when I read about senseless destruction, it makes me feel sick. I am sorry that they did this, but I am happy you preserved a description of it here on your blog. Some of the sharpest women I know came out of retail, and I am so glad you shared not only these YUMMY recipes, but I am thankful you shared your story. I think a lot of young women take for granted who it is who paved the way for them to have career choices.



  36. Dear Sam, These sound like wonderful memories. It even hold the memory of meeting your husband. The store holds so many good memories for you.
    It is a shame that so many wonderful stores such as this are being replaced by places without the style or wonderful experience of personal and memorable shopping.
    I also loved to shop in a store that had a good place to have lunch. I have many happy memories of sharing a day shopping and then having lunch with my mom. I don't know of a store that does that anymore. My mom and I would go to Abraham and Strauss or Macy's and shop and then have lunch. I do miss that.

    Thank you for sharing and the cheese spreads do sound wonderful. Blessings, Catherine xo

  37. Sam, I do recall all the M & A's throughout the years, but Foley's was not part of my experience. Wonderful post and history lesson. As for the recipes, well.. certainly will be served here as we love our appetizers.

    Merry Christmas to you and Meakin, and may the New Year be healthy and bring you much joy.

  38. How delicious! Your recipe looks amazing. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  39. Foley's, another Houston memory. I loved a chocolate cookie they sold in the bakery and have quite a story that goes along with them!

  40. I would like to try both of them. I haven't had many cheese spreads in my life - love them! Grew up with Italian block cheese on an antipasti platter. Love the flavor mixings. Ironically, I grew up with Macy at Herald Square ion NYC - and no it isn't what it used to be. Not by far. But I remember when it was more stately. And when I first moved to MN, I worked at Daytons - that was first class all the way and very proud to be there! Lovely, informational post! And fun to find out more about you!

  41. Making the Jalapeno Cheese Spread today and will let you know if close to the way I remember the spread from Foley's in Sharpston, a Houston Suburb. They had a wonderful Candy department with huge barrels of various cheese spreads and I remember the wonderful flavor of both of these. Tis a shame to have discontinued this department by being bought out by Macy's, but space is allocated according to dollar revenue and so it goes. My wife worked at this candy/cheese department back in 1968-69. Remember the wonderful food at Valiants Pizza which was at the corner of Main and Holcomb/Bellaire in Houston which now is the Medical Center area. You made me hungry so get ready for the food processor to churn. Hated the traffic of Houston, but loved the food and its wonderful diversity!!!

  42. Loved Foleys in Houston. My husband worked downtown at Texas Eastern. He frequently ate at Foleys. He loved the Chicken Salad with the olives and pecans. I am searching for the recipe. Juanita Wigley ( Thank you.

  43. Loved Foleys in Houston. My husband worked downtown at Texas Eastern. He frequently ate at Foleys. He loved the Chicken Salad with the olives and pecans. I am searching for the recipe. Juanita Wigley ( Thank you.


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