A Century of
We use the same slow, cold percolation that our grandfather developed when he started making pure vanilla extract in 1918. Through 100 years of unimaginable change, our company has survived and flourished on one unchanging principle: quality.
From Our Family To Yours
Babe Ruth was hitting homers when Angus T. Lochhead founded the family vanilla business. We have been in continuous family ownership and operation ever since.
The miracle of it all is that we make our vanilla the same way Angus did 100 years ago.
A slow, cold percolation that starts with the world’s finest vanilla beans.
Artisanal is what we’ve been doing for a century.
Some things never change. Some things shouldn’t.
The story of who we are shows where we are headed:
1920s: Trial and Triumph
1930s and 1940s: A New Era
One son, Raymond R. Lochhead, heads west to study chemical engineering at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California. Studying under Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, Ray begins exploring aromatic chemistry with an eye to achieving the most intense and complex vanilla extracts. He falls in love with Emilie, who will become his partner of 72 years — and with California, where he one day will return to start his own factory.
1960s: Ray Goes West
In 1963, Ray fulfills his dream of moving to California, branching out from his brothers to establish his own plant in Paso Robles, a small town ideally situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco. These thriving cities promise new customers for his vanilla, and offer ports to bring vanilla beans from Madagascar and the South Pacific to his new factory.
Ray pilots his Cessna single-engine airplane on sales calls around the West, sawing a Honda 50 motorcycle in two so he can stash it in the back of the plane. Upon landing, he bolts the motorcycle back together to call on his customers. His customers are astonished. He sells a lot of vanilla.
After making a sale, he flies back to the plant to fill the order. He hands kitchen knives to Emilie and four of their five children — his youngest, Cook president Josephine, was still a baby — to chop 320 pounds of beans for his first percolator batch.
With R.R. Lochhead Manufacturing established, Ray not only makes his own vanilla. He also builds his own infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography food lab to research vanilla and other flavors. He expands his product line, inventing dozens of new flavor formulations, from almond and maple to peppermint and strawberry.
Ray experiments endlessly, perfecting his slow, cold vanilla percolations. He invents the first pure vanilla powder, providing an alternative to liquid extracts, and a unique, alcohol-free pure vanilla.
1970s: Vertical Integration
Ray begins traveling to the world’s vanilla regions —Madagascar, Bali, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, India, Mauritius. He studies curing methods, and regional differences in vanilla bean cultivation. He opens new areas for production and buys directly at the source.
Ray sets up vanilla curing operations in Bali and Fiji, and cultivates relationships with growers in Madagascar and Tonga. He stays with people he meets, sleep on their floors, makes them his friends and partners, and teaches them the art of vanilla bean curing. He establishes his own vanilla plantation in Fiji, pitching a tent in the jungle. Emilie wields a machete one visit to help tend the vines.
1980s: The Ken Cook Connection
Ray loves his customers. And Ray’s customers love his vanilla. So much that the late Ken Cook, former president of Dreyer’s Ice Cream, wants to distribute R. R. Lochhead Manufacturing vanilla at retail. When Ken Cook retires from Dreyer’s, he and Ray launch a new label: Cook’s Pure Vanilla for home bakers.
1990s: A New Era Begins
Maybe Josephine was too young to chop beans by hand for Ray’s first percolator batch. But she was sifting vanilla seeds in our plant at age 5. She hasn’t stopped.
Josephine and her husband, Don Schmidt, a Master of Dairy Science from Cal Poly, join the business. Don takes over production, overseeing manufacturing. In fact, Don is our production.
When Ken Cook passes away in 1991, Ray and Josephine acquire Cook’s. We proudly continue to manufacture under both the Cook’s and R. R. Lochhead labels.
Don travels with Ray to the South Pacific, Bali and Flores. Josephine, also a Cal Poly graduate, works with Dad in all facets of the business, including a stint running the plant. She develops Cook’s Pure Vanilla Puree, a vanilla paste sought by chefs and home bakers. Don creates Cook’s Pure Vanilla Crush specifically for ice cream makers to deliver the beauty of vanilla seeds to ice creams.
2000s: Entering a Second Century as a Family Business
Josephine and Don help Ray run Cook’s and R. R. Lochhead for more than three decades, until his death in 2018. Dad kept working every day through his 80s. He traveled to Uganda and Costa Rica to explore new vanilla sources. He helped customers, and loved talking with them. We remember him spending hours on the phone with a mail order client who bought 4 ounces of vanilla and had a question.
Josephine and Don now carry on the family business with their three children, Margaret, George and Henry. That label on your bottle of Cook’s extract may have been attached by one of them. It’s a Lochhead tradition.
2010s: A New Generation
Margaret earns her Cal Poly degree in chemistry and starts running the lab — and our website. George graduates from Cal Poly graduate in dairy science and assumes a big role in production. Henry handles mail orders between college classes.
Margaret and her cousin Susannah Luthi spend many months in Tonga securing and curing vanilla beans. Josephine retraces Dad’s path to vanilla’s birthplace in Mexico, where she finds high-quality vanilla production still thriving. Don updates the plant to modern food-safety protocols.
Josephine renews the company’s commitment to Madagascar, making frequent visits to establish direct vanilla bean procurement from local villages, forming Cook’s vanilla cooperatives. She and Don make a big push into organic production, and further diversify procurement to Papua New Guinea.
Our Legacy Is Our Future
Josephine and Don share Ray’s intense passion for vanilla. They live it and breathe it as he did, continuing his relentless drive for “bean to bottle” quality, seeking to make the best vanilla possible.
They travel the Tropics to find the world’s finest vanilla beans. They work on the ground with vanilla farmers and curers. Select their own beans. Run their own plant. Answer their own phones. Make their own vanilla, every batch following Angus’s century-old protocol.
Some things never change. Some things shouldn’t.