For decades, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy has been delivering milk, cream and butter to local restaurants and schools. It’s something of which 90-year-old Ben Kleinpeter is quite proud.
“I always took great pride in the Kleinpeter name with the dairy business because our quality was so good,” says Kleinpeter, who bought out the remaining family members in 1987. “We always relied on word-of-mouth. We gave good service 24 hours a day. … We built good relationships with our customers, and they would push Kleinpeter milk. Eventually, we wiped everybody else out.”
On July 15, the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society will honor Kleinpeter with its 12th annual Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentation takes place during a six-course dinner at the Renaissance, with each course paired with specially selected fine wine. The night gets underway at 6 p.m. with cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres followed by the dinner, the award presentation and a live auction.
Kleinpeter breaks out in a huge smile as he recalls delivering dairy products to Mama Marino, the late queen of the kitchen at the venerable Gino’s Restaurant; Baker’s Cafeteria, which was located near LSU; T.H. Hamilton in the early days of Piccadilly Cafeteria; iconic restaurants like Jack Sabin’s and the Goal Post; and “Miss Fannie” Distefano, who reigned over the original Village Restaurant.
“Miss Fannie used nothing but Kleinpeter,” he says proudly. “She wanted that whipped cream. … We had such a rapport with everybody. They’d want you to drink coffee with them, even eat breakfast.”
Kleinpeter Farms Dairy also delivered to homes in those days, dropping milk off in glass bottles in the Garden District, Capital Heights, Hundred Oaks.
“Essen Lane was an actual lane and it would flood,” recalls Kleinpeter with a laugh. “There was a house there that had a German shepherd and if he was on the front porch, you had trouble. There weren’t any leash laws back then so you learned quickly to beware of dogs.”
Kleinpeter’s life as the milk man began at an early age. He was one of 11 children born to Lillian and Leon Kleinpeter.
“I had five brothers and five sisters and I was right in the middle,” he says. “If there was a dirty job, I did it and I never complained.”
One of those jobs was milking the cows. In fact, it was his full-time job, and he had to do it every 12 hours, seven days a week. Up at 2 a.m., Kleinpeter said he would “religiously” start milking by 3. The process would repeat in the afternoon.
“I’d milk all 125 cows, today they can milk 1,200 in the same amount of time,” he says. “I was very particular about quality. My cows’ udders were very clean and they were always healthy. Our milk was top notch.”
As Kleinpeter got older, he assumed the jobs of running routes and soliciting new business. He also delivered many a baby calf and took care of a lot of cows over the years.
In 2004, Kleinpeter stepped down from the day-to-day running of the dairy, Louisiana’s largest independent dairy, and turned it over to his children. Today, daughter Sue Anne Cox is at the helm.
“She’s carrying on a family legacy; she’s the fourth generation,” says Kleinpeter proudly. “I’ve had half a dozen offers to sell out over the years. I’ve never asked them the price but I’d visit with them. I just have a feeling for this company, for tradition.”
Baton Rouge Epicurean Society’s Grace 'Mama' Marino Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, July 15
WHERE: Renaissance Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd.