When you think of Duke Foods, we know what probably comes to mind. Bright yellow lids full of thick, smooth mayo. But have you ever wondered who is the Duke behind this southern staple? Her name was Eugenia Duke.
If Eugenia Duke sounds vaguely familiar – maybe it’s because of the Eugenia Duke Bridge. Or maybe you’ve seen her picture on the walls of Duke Sandwich Co.’s renovated Poinsett Hwy. location. Either way, Eugenia made a name for herself here in Greenville. Here’s the play by play of her success story:
In 1917, the U.S. had just entered WWI. In an effort to help, with no war training, Eugenia + her daughter, Martha, turned their kitchen in Greenville, S.C. into a sandwich-making line. This is where they created some of the now popular spreads – egg salad, chicken salad, and pimento cheese.
Eugenia Duke started selling her sandwiches, homemade with a family recipe, to soldiers stationed at Camp Sevier. With the men wrapped up in the war, Eugenia’s team was nearly all female.
Two years later, her sandwiches were a hit. She’d already sold over 10,000 in one day.
Eventually, she began supplying her food to local stores and textile mills. Eugenia became an influential presence in Greenville. She was known to be passionate about women’s rights – involving herself in the push to pass the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote.
So, how did Duke’s become what it is today?
- Eugenia eventually sold her mayonnaise recipe to C.F. Sauer.
- The president + treasurer of the C.F. Sauer Company established a Duke Mayonnaise factory here in the Upstate.
- Eugenia sold the recipes for her spreads to her bookkeeper, Alan Hart, who went on to establish a wholesale market for the sandwiches. In 1964, Alan sold the business to his wife’s brother, Loran Smart (who modified a machine to wrap the sandwiches automatically).
- In 1978, Loran’s son, Richard Smart, established several restaurant locations. Cheryl Smart, Richard’s wife, became president of the company later taking charge of the restaurants located here in the Upstate.
- In 2006, Andrew Smart, Richard and Cheryl’s son, opened a plant in Simpsonville, S.C. This allowed their products to be offered in regional grocery stores.
- Duke Sandwich Productions was recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in S.C. in 2012, which pushed to an 80,000 square-foot manufacturing facility being built in Easley, S.C.
- Fast forward to 2017 – Duke Foods and Duke Sandwich Company celebrated their Centennial Anniversary. Duke Brands, the new parent company, opened its corporate HQ in downtown Greenville.
The next time you slather some Duke’s mayo on a sandwich or head over to the store on Poinsett Highway (the flagship – est. early 1960s), take an extra second to appreciate the person behind the Duke name – Eugenia Duke.
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