HUNTINGTON - In the heyday of the region's coal industry, miners' wives packed lunches for their husbands that almost always included a small, four-inch fruit pie. Youngsters also carried the little pies to school. Over the years, countless thousands of those tasty treats were baked in Huntington by the Fricke Pie Co., which distributed them to mom-and-pop grocery stores, not just in West Virginia but in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and as far away as Indiana.
Born in Cincinnati in 1872, Louis C. Fricke Sr. was the oldest of six children. His father died when he was 16, and so he went to work at a bakery to support his widowed mother and his siblings. In 1900, with his siblings grown, he moved to Huntington. He bought a house at 609 7th Ave. and started baking in the basement.
Louis Sr. had four boys - Louis Frederick, Charles William, Arthur Henry and Frederick John. As soon as they were old enough to tie on an apron, all four worked along with their father to build what became a thriving business. Today, Charles W. Fricke Jr., known to family and friends as Sandy, recalls that ultimately the brothers divided up their duties. "Louis was the business manager, my dad (Charles Sr.) was in charge of sales and distribution, Arthur was basically the baker, and Fred was a jack of all trades, filling in where needed."
Early on, Fricke pies were delivered by horse-drawn wagon. By 1908, Louis Sr. had built a bakery building in back of the family home and purchased three delivery trucks. At its peak, the company had a fleet of more than a dozen trucks, including two semi rigs that drove to distant distribution points. Remembered for its little 5-cent pies, the company also baked and sold full-size pies, cakes, cookies and Christmas-time fruitcakes.
After World War II, loyalty to the mom-and pop stores they served caused the brothers to turn down requests from Kroger and A&P, which wanted to sell their pies. That refusal, says Arthur L. Fricke, the son of Arthur H., was a "brutal mistake" as shortly the coal mines began mechanizing and laying off thousands of miners. Deprived of customers, one by one the mom-and-pops began closing. That meant a disastrous downturn in business for the Fricke Co. and in 1959 it, too, was forced to close.
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