SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The son of Italian immigrants who turned an Armenian recipe into Rice-A-Roni, the popular dish known to Americans since the 1960s as “The San Francisco Treat,” has died, his family said on Monday.
Vincent DeDomenico died on Thursday of natural causes at his home in Napa, California, north of San Francisco, his daughter Marla Bleecher said.
DeDomenico worked in his family’s pasta business when he was inspired in 1958 to create the mix of vermicelli, macaroni and flavorings that millions of Americans came to know by its advertising slogan as “The San Francisco Treat.”
“My uncle Tom’s wife got the recipe from an Armenian neighbor and served it one night for dinner,” Bleecher said. “My dad had been making dried soups for the Army ... When he tasted it he said maybe we can make something like this in dry form.”
“He went back to the plant and they started messing around with it, starting with the soup base they made for the Army,” she said.
Rice-A-Roni was soon found on American tables coast to coast following the television advertising campaign in the 1960s that featured scenes of San Francisco and its cable cars, along with a catchy jingle to promote the easy-to-make dish. The ads also gave the city much publicity.
“It’s a brand that’s been great for the city and is a vestige of my childhood,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. “Just the sight and sound of the cable car bell evokes the old jingle.”
The DeDomenico family in 1986 sold their firm, the Golden Grain Macaroni Company, to Quaker Oats as part of deal worth about $300 million, Bleecher said. It is now owned by PepsiCo.
Even after creating the U.S. packaged food classic, DeDomenico continued to tinker with new culinary ideas, using his family as tasters. “He brought all these test products home,” his daughter said. “We ate these products until we were all sick of them.”