June 22, 2024
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David Mintz Changed The World, One Tofutti Cutie at a Time

His life was a lesson in persistence, his optimism and infectious smile a reminder that the impossible can become reality if you refuse to give up.

Tenafly resident David Mintz, who died on February 24 at the age of 89, opened up an entire world of new options when he created Tofutti nearly 40 years ago. While his Tofutti Cutie ice cream sandwiches are a staple for countless kosher consumers and his Better Than Cream Cheese has made many a parve dessert a decadent reality, the company’s market reach extends far beyond the Jewish community. Tofutti products can be found all across the United States and in more than two dozen foreign countries and, according to Grub Street, the $1.2 billion non-dairy ice cream market owes a debt of gratitude to Mintz, who spent 10 years finding a way to transform soybean curd into a delicious frozen dessert.

Mintz’s Tofutti odyssey first began in 1972. The owner of three restaurants and a thriving catering business, Mintz was besieged by constant requests from customers for ice cream, prompting him to experiment with tofu, which at the time was being hailed as a versatile wonder food. But Mintz’s first experience with tofu was anything but love at first bite, reported the Jewish Press in a 2017 article.

“It tasted like biting into a pillow,” said Mintz.

But Mintz persevered. What he called “tofu time” began nightly after he closed up at nine, working till all hours of the morning with his staff to make his vision become a reality. It became apparent fairly early on that tofu worked well as a sour cream substitute, and Mintz used it in quiches and dips, but ice cream just wasn’t happening. There was many an occasion where Mintz was ready to throw in the towel, but he was spurred on by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who urged him to continue his tofu trials, telling him to have faith that Hashem would help him and that he would achieve worldwide success.

There were plenty of setbacks along the way, with Mintz nearly being barred by an ice cream facility he was using for test runs after his prototype exploded, spraying his ice cream substitute all over the ceiling. But he ultimately hit pay dirt. Tofutti’s Vanilla, Chocolate Supreme, Wildberry Supreme, Vanilla Almond Bark, Chocolate Cookie Crunch and Better Pecan flavors began showing up in kosher kitchens as well as in 23,000 retail stores including Häagen-Dazs shops, Bloomingdales and Zabar’s. Never one to rest on his laurels, Mintz continued innovating, creating markets for his tofu-based sliced cheeses, cream cheese, ricotta, sour cream, pizza and Tofutti-based frozen desserts, including his Cuties ice cream sandwiches and cookie-covered ice cream cones. Mintz’s humor was often evident in his product line, which included the aptly named Mintz’s Blintzes and chocolate dipped mint ice cream bars dubbed Mint by Mintz.

Mintz reveled in being able to use his non-dairy products to expand culinary horizons, whipping up kosher versions of authentic recipes culled from his Italian neighbors. As president of Chabad of Tenafly, he would often host large Friday night meals, wowing guests with ravioli and manicotti that tasted too good to be parve.

Overtime Cook blogger Miriam Pascal Cohen noted Mintz’s Better Than Cream Cheese was a game changer for kosher cooks,the non-dairy substitute upping the ante like never before by adding both richness and flavor. Among recipes in her three cookbooks that call for non-dairy cream cheese are a hot gooey caramel pie, a fruit-filled pavlova and multiple cheesecakes, mousse cups, trifles and glazes.

“We take it for granted today that you can do things with parve cream cheese and sour cream that you couldn’t do in the past and David Mintz made that happen,” Pascal-Cohen told the Jewish Link. “He was such a humble person who always talked about how Hashem helped him and it was nice to hear someone giving Hashem credit for their success.”

Despite his financial success, Mintz treasured hearing how his products had changed the lives of his kosher and lactose intolerant customers. Perhaps the most touching feedback came from a man whose mother had cancer and was slowly withering away because she couldn’t keep any food down. She experienced a complete turnaround after her doctor recommended that she start eating vanilla Tofutti because of its nutritional content; her son called Mintz when she passed away two years later to thank him for extending his mother’s life.

“I got off the phone and I sat at my desk unable to move,” said Mintz. “I couldn’t believe that I had made such a difference in someone’s life and I attribute it all to the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, telling me to have faith, to have bitachon.”

COLlive reported that as Tofutti took off, Mintz became well known for his philanthropy, sponsoring the writing of numerous sifrei Torah, building mikvot, donating Tofutti products to camps and yeshivas and writing $1,000 checks daily to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with two written each Friday. Mintz shared a close relationship with Rabbi Schneerson for decades, posing hundreds of questions regarding his business and personal life, and crediting him for his accomplishments. In a 2013 interview with Jewish Educational Media, Mintz shared that he had been extremely surprised when the Lubavitcher Rebbe told him not to open a restaurant on the Upper West Side, but later saw how that advice saved him from countless headaches. Another time, when he was unsure about taking his company public, the Rebbe told him, “That’s a very good thought.”

“This move put Tofutti on the map, so that we were working with the largest companies like Häagen-Dazs and others and it was all because the Rebbe gave me a blessing that I should be successful and because his guidance saved me each and every time,” said Mintz.


Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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