His father was always amused that people thought the cheddar cheese snack he produced at his Bronx factory was the highlight of his life, Robbie Yohai said. His father’s wide-ranging interests extended to Jewish mysticism and poetry, and the snack was only one of many things his father did, Yohai said.
But it’s Cheez Doodles that he will be remembered for.
Yohai developed the small tubular snack at his Old London Foods factory in the 1950s. The company already was selling Dipsy Doodles rippled corn chips, which were made with a machine that spit them out under pressure through a nozzle shaped like the letter W.
“He applied a similar concept for the Cheez Doodles,” adapting the machine to extrude liquefied cornmeal into a “more roundish, pinhole shape,” said Robbie Yohai.
The snack was coated with seasoning and cheddar cheese that colors hands bright orange. To make the Cheez Doodles healthier, they were baked, not fried.
In 1965, Borden approached Yohai about selling the Old London company, which also made Melba Toast, ice cream cones, cheese crackers and other products. He became senior vice president of Borden’s snack food division, acquiring Wise potato chips, Drake’s cakes, Campfire Marshmallows and other products for the company.
He left Borden after about 10 years when the company moved to Ohio, his son said. For a long time, he kept a picture of Julia Child eating a bag of Cheez Doodles with a caption that called it her favorite snack, Yohai added.
When the family vacationed in California in 2004, he said, they went to a museum that had a room-size installation by artist Sandy Skoglund called “The Cocktail Party,” a work made entirely of Cheez Doodles.
“The whole room was made of Cheez Doodles, the table, chairs, glasses, the people’s hair,” said Robbie. He said his mother was very excited and “proceeded to tell everyone in the museum that my father was the creator of the Cheez Doodles.”
In the 1970s, Yohai was the associate dean of the business school at the New York Institute of Technology on Long Island.
Yohai’s daughter, Babs Yohai, said her father began writing poetry after someone suggested he write a memoir. After taking a writing class, he produced two poetry books, one of which focused on interpreting the Torah.
He learned Hebrew so he could read the teachings of the Zohar, a foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah.
Yohai also supported many conservation and environmental causes through his Morrie R. Yohai Foundation, his son said.
Born in Harlem, Yohai graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and received a master’s degree from New York University. He went to work for the Grumman aircraft factory on Long Island and was a pilot during World War II.