The Flavor of New England

One of the oldest continuing businesses in Maine, the Dolan Flavoring Company of Portland has produced an array of full-flavored products and extracts for over a hundred years. The company’s current feature item, Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor, contains a unique, homemade formula created in 1906 when Founder Harry A. Dolan sought an economical, better-tasting alternative to vanilla extract. This product has provided rich, “grandma’s kitchen” quality flavors to New England homes, bakeries, specialty shops, ice cream makers and supermarkets for over a century. For the purist baker, the Dolan Flavoring Company offers Autumn Lane Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract, the rich essence of which is sure to enhance your ice cream, custard and pudding dishes.

The Dolan Flavoring Company’s history is an intriguing one. Founder Harry A. Dolan, born in 1877, began his United States Army career as an apothecary assistant in the Spanish American war. After leaving the service, Harry Dolan utilized his experience with chemical processes in starting a retail ice cream plant. During the dawn of the 20th century, Vermont Dairy was thus opened in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, but a devastating fire soon eliminated Harry's ice cream venture. He subsequently moved his large, young family to Portland, Maine and started the Dolan Flavoring Company.

Located at 41 Williams Street in Portland, the Dolan Flavoring Company offered a multitude of vanilla flavoring products carrying the names Good Baby, Hotel Special, Dirigo (the Maine state motto), Golden Rod and Baker’s Bonus. Also popular was Jug-Full Concentrate which is still in production today. In addition, Harry produced lemon extract and flavoring, a maple product, and even a cherry cough syrup that was a kid favorite into the 1950’s. Since the beginning, all of Harry’s carefully-prepared flavorings have been carried in glass, as his experience with chemistry informed him that a plastic container would never preserve his products’ essence in the same manner, tarnishing the true flavors contained.

 

Portland Press Herald
on Harry Dolan

circa 1963

 

Retail Expansion

As the business grew, Harry Dolan’s shop, located in a converted barn behind his house, became a hub of activity. His grandchildren, who lost their parents at a young age, grew up working in the business alongside Harry’s son, John. Over the years, they assisted with such daily tasks as bottling, labeling, shipping and cleaning the huge oaken barrels before joining their friends at play. At times, though, like Tom Sawyer, the grandchildren could entice their friends into the fun of helping, as some of the tasks were intriguing and appealing to a youngster’s curiosity. For some neighborhood children, it became their first-ever employment, as Harry would hire at peak times to the tune of 25 cents an hour - the minimum wage in those days.

In the early years, Harry Dolan marketed his pure vanilla extract and other fine flavorings throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York with his contemporaries George C. Shaw and the Hannaford Brothers. In the 1950s, as supermarkets grew, changed, and started to expand outside of their local regions, Harry continued his pursuit of the finest flavors and would not sacrifice on packaging, ingredients, or careful processes in producing his offerings. Ever the salesman, Harry maintained his relationships with Hannaford Brothers, Shaw’s and Independent Grocers’ Alliance (“IGA”) who had been carrying his products since the early part of the century.

Quality, economy and taste continued to be the drivers behind Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor, so it came as no surprise when praise and superlatives were heaped onto this one-of-a-kind product throughout the 20th century. Several family-owned and operated ice cream companies insisted upon using Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor to satisfy the discriminating tastes of their customers. An ice cream entrepreneur in Florida, whose advertising boasted the “best vanilla ice cream in the world,” was once challenged by a Mount Williams loyalist, Ray Gagnon of Gagnon’s Dairy Delight in Waterville, Maine. When Ray Gagnon visited the ice cream shop in Florida, he raved about Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor so much that the highly reluctant Florida owner promised to give it a try. The Florida owner then promptly converted to Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor and never looked back.

At the age of 93, Harry Dolan was still producing Dolan Flavoring Company products when failing health took him to the Veterans Hospital for the final time. The year was 1970, and Harry’s legacy was passed down through his son, John Dolan, to his grandson, Phillip “Jack” Dawson, who brought the family business into the next phase of its fabled history.

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Wholesale Changes

With the consolidation of local grocers and retailers, the acceleration of private-label offerings, e-commerce, and the modernization of supply-chain logistics, local products across the United States took a hit at large grocery chains, and the Dolan Flavoring Company’s products started to disappear from grocery store shelves. Jack, like Harry Dolan, had to weather a major change in market dynamics, so he targeted local specialty stores, gourmet food shops, artisan/local shelves at larger grocers, and the newest generation of confectioners, ice cream makers and bakers in the Portland area.

a Family Tradition Since 1906 Continues

To reach even more of the company’s loyal customers who continue to ask for Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor and Autumn Lane Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract, the Dolan Flavoring Company recently sought new distribution channels. Jack decided to leverage the business experience of his nephew, Mathieu “Mat” Gagné, to bring the next generation of the family business into the new world of retail commerce and out to the company’s valued customers.

Together, Jack and Mat remain committed to bringing customers the “Strength, Flavor, and Economy” found in Dolan Flavoring products and marked on our labels for over a century. Today, Dolan Flavoring Company is able to offer both its flagship product, Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor, and the re-introduction of its Autumn Lane Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract beyond the borders of Maine and outside the walls of mega-stores. For our commercial clients, we continue to produce Jug-Full Vanilla Flavor Concentrate. All products are available in the same glass bottles on which Harry Dolan would have insisted.

Through four generations, the Dolan Flavoring Company has encouraged each and every discriminating “chef” to experience our unmatched flavor and value. You will know the difference the second you smell the fragrant essence of our 100-year-old Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor that will never “cook out.” And if you must have the finest in vanilla extract, Autumn Lane Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract will provide you the artisanal quality and intensity that comes from a century of perfection.

Whether you are new to our products or they are as familiar as your mother’s cupboard, you’ll now find they are right under your nose. See if our vanilla brings back sweet memories or inspires you to make some of your own!

Mat Gagne and Jack Dawson

Mat Gagne and Jack Dawson

 

Maine Roots

Over the years, one Dolan Flavoring Company product came to stand out for its bold, lasting taste and its use as an alternative to the more expensive and inconsistent quality of vanilla extract. Harry Dolan’s wish was to name this flagship offering after the street on which his company was located - Williams. He soon was informed, however that the name was already taken by an entrepreneur in upstate Maine who happened to also be marketing vanilla flavoring. Told he must “mount” something else on his label so that it would not in any way encroach on Mr. Williams’ established item, Harry opted for the name “Mount Williams.” Simple and direct, but an enduring household item that is still found in a number of specialty stores and used by discerning confectionaries and ice cream makers in New England.

Unlike vanilla extract which contains alcohol by definition, Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor does not “cook out” with evaporation or give a sharp aftertaste to custards, ice creams, whipped creams and frostings. Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor draws its smooth and creamy flavor from vanillin, an organic compound found in a variety of woody plants, but most highly concentrated in the vanilla bean. Whether using extract or flavoring, Harry was steadfast in making sure that flavor was everything in each of his products, no matter what a label might portray or how fancy a bottle might look. He was steadfast in making the savory taste of vanilla the key ingredient for the most discriminating of recipes.

The challenges to sustaining a reliable and high-quality production flow over the course of the century were many for Harry Dolan’s business, in particular the various shortages brought about by two world wars and Prohibition, and the terribly uncertain economic times of the Great Depression. But Harry continued traveling door to door with his inventory, sometimes enlisting his sons and daughters in an attempt to reach as many home kitchens in Maine as possible. He next ventured out to the family-owned and operated stores of northern New England and sold his products to “jobbers,” the modern-day equivalent of distributors.

Jack Dawson Interview

Cheverus Today Alumni Interview

Customers Save the Flavor

When Jack became the administrator of Harry Dolan’s affairs in 1970, he notified the grocery chains and “jobbers” of his intention to close down the business. With a career in the education field and a young family, Jack felt it would be difficult to run the Dolan Flavoring Company on this own. At about the same time, IGA stores and Milliken Tomlinson dissolved their partnership, and Dolan Flavoring Company’s Golden Rod Imitation Vanilla Flavor, produced under IGA’s label, was discontinued.

A few short weeks after Jack made his decision to close the business, however, many grocery stores, including Shaw’s, Hannaford Brothers and Federal and Columbia Markets, informed Jack that their customers were inquiring as to why the shelves were no longer stocked with the popular Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor they had been using for three generations. Loyal customers wondered and inquired where they could find their tried and true vanilla, used by mothers and grandmothers in kitchens across the state.

Jack then gave in to customer demand and worked passionately to return the Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor product to its rightful position on supermarket shelves. As a labor of love, Jack also resumed direct store deliveries in Maine, from Sanford to Bath, and carried the company into the next century, supporting Mainers and New Englanders with the vanilla flavoring they knew and loved.

In addition to returning Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor to the supermarket shelves, Jack celebrated the Dolan Flavoring Company’s new century with the re-introduction of a bourbon vanilla extract. Autumn Lane Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract is made from the highest quality vanilla bean in the world, the Bourbon bean, named for the Bourbon monarchies of France who controlled the best vanilla-producing regions in the world for hundreds of years. In keeping with the origin of the Mount Williams product name, Jack decided to call this vanilla extract “Autumn Lane,” after the street on which he lived. This item had been missing from the Dolan Flavoring Company product line for half a century, and its return was heralded by many commercial confectioners, bakers and ice cream makers.

Jack continued working with supermarket owners and distributors to ensure Dolan Flavoring Company products reached an ever wider range of stores. He struck agreements with Progressive Distributors (for Hannaford Brothers) and York County Biscuit (for Shaw’s) to distribute Mount Williams Original Vanilla Flavor in 4 ounce and 375 mL bottles. Manufacturing was then subcontracted to a Maine company called Schlotterbeck and Foss for higher volume production and distribution.

A company named Millbrook replaced York County Biscuit in mid 1999, at which point Shaw’s Supermarket was sold to a British company, and Dolan Flavoring Company’s products were sadly removed from Shaw’s shelves.

In 2002, to accommodate Hannaford‘s request for more convenient sizing and a better fit for their shelving, Dolan eliminated the 4 ounce and 375 mL of packages and replaced them with the current 200 mL flask. Soon after, in 2004, the bottling processes were transferred to Pemberton‘s Gourmet Foods in Gray, Maine.

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