The Man and The Mix

James Oseland

Today Duncan Hines is invariably associated with the boxed cake mixes that bear his name, and many Americans likely relegate that name to the category of fictional culinary icons that includes Betty Crocker and Uncle Ben. In fact, not only was Duncan Hines a real person, but, during much of the 20th century, before he lent his entrepreneurial acumen to food products in the 1950s, he reigned as one of the country's most influential restaurant critics. In the days before Zagat Surveys, the words "Recommended by Duncan Hines" were a seal of approval proudly displayed outside restaurants across the country. As the founder of the immensely popular Adventures in Good Eating series of travel guides, Hines changed the way Americans ate when traveling. Duncan Hines was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1880. He first got the idea of reviewing restaurants for travelers when he was working as a salesman for printing businesses; driving around the country to meet with clients, he filled a notebook with jottings about his favorite places to eat along the way. Soon, with his wife, Florence, he was visiting restaurants on weekends too. According to Duncan Hines: The Man Behind the Cake Mix by Louis Hatchett (Mercer University Press, 2001), the two of them would stop "two or three times a day for waffles, sausage and eggs, and at least as often for fried chicken, baked clams or black-bottom pie". Frequently, the restaurants were unsanitary, the food unpalatable. There was usually good food in the cities, Hines said in an interview, "but in small towns and along the highways the average restaurant was a place of dirty tablecloths, crankcase coffee and pork chops cooked to a cinder". Determined to steer travelers clear of such perils, Hines published the first Adventures in Good Eating guide in 1936. The guide was a best seller and was updated every year until 1962, when the last edition was printed. Seen as a people's crusader and an incorruptible critic, Hines's became a trusted household name. In 1949, along with a business partner, Roy H. Park, Hines launched a line of products on the strength of his steadfast reputation. They were a huge success. Ice cream came first, followed by the popular cake mixes—white, yellow, devil's food, and spice—in 1951. Hines died in 1959. Today, we continue to take inspiration from his simple mission: to introduce travelers to "the refinements of good living, while seeing America".