Remembering Alves Dairy: Part III

In 1978, a few days before the famous Alves Dairy, south of Half Moon Bay, famous for its delicious chocolate milk, closed its doors forever, I had the opportunity to interview owner Ernie Alves.

Ernie Alves.

Ernie Alves was telling me how he recalled, with accuracy, the construction of a milk plant. The way he remembered, he said, was because WW II began, and he couldn’t forget that time. There were two German bricklayers working for his family and the war directly affected these men.

Ernie: They passed a regulation that any aliens–Germans, Italians and Japanese could not cross west of the white line. (The white land separated the west side of the “highway” from the east side). The two bricklayers were German and they couldn’t come to work anymore. The man who ran the bakery was Italian and he couldn’t go to work, but his sons who were born here, could.

It was a terrible when Coastside residents without American citizenship could not cross Main Street to buy groceries or eat dinner or hug their friends. Although the bitterness of those times has carried over until this very day, everyone was relieved when the war ended.

Ernie Alves said his family processed raw milk until 1946. Then, he noted, the county and state passed a law requiring milk to be pasteurized.

Drive-ins had caught the imagination of the post WWII consumer; they were novel and helped usher in the fast food conept. About 1962 the Alves family built their own drive-in dairy south of Half Moon Bay.

Ernie: That is to say, Alves explained, if you had a herd and you had your own store you could sell milk for two to three cents lower than the prices a store could at that time. The state had complete control of prices. We were open six months and they changed the law. We had to sell at the same price as the stores.

So soon they had lost their competitive edge–and that was the beginning of the end of drive-ins.

In 1941 the Alves Dairy sold milk for ten cents a quart. They could turn a profit on that–but by 1978 it had become impossible and that was a big reason why the dairy was closing down.

Ernie: We built this place and we had to borrow. We’ve been forced to lower our price per gallon,which to me is utterly ridiculous. I would like to take those people and give them our operation for six months and see what they can do. They’ll probably be slaughtering cows to eat.

Now the closing of the Alves Dairy was a few days away.

June: How do you feel?

Ernie: It seems strange but I’m also kind of glad to get away from it. I’ve got a lot of irons on the fire.

Although the dairy closed, the “Our Cows Are Outstanding In Their Field” sign stayed up for awhile longer, then it, too, vanished forever.

Remembering Alves Dairy: Part II

(Photo: A view of the drive-in part of Alves Dairy: )

In February 1978 Alves Dairy sold its last bottle of delicious chocolate milk. I interviewed owner Ernie Alves a few days before the famous south of Half Moon Bay dairy closed down forever. We stood outside the 1950s-style drive-in dairy and talked about the history of the Alves family and the dairy.

Part II

Ernie Alves struck me as a guy who knew everything about farming so I was amazed when he confessed, “As far as cows go, strange as it sounds, I have never milked a cow until a month ago. I’ve always been in processing. I had to give our milker a day off, so my wife, my daughter and I milked the cows. I guess we’ve done it about three times now.”

1977-78 had been a rough year for the Alves family. His brother Frank was driving the dairy’s van back from Pescadero when he was involved in an accident. Frank’s injuries included a twisted neck and broken back.

Ernie: It took three men to replace Frank. This last year has been one madhouse as far as I’m concerned.

That was one of the reasons the Alves family decided to close the dairy, lease the land and sell the cows.

Ernie’s ancestors immigrated from the Azore Islands, settling in Pescadero in the 1800s. The family produced cheese at the rustic Willowside Ranch on a stretch of scenic Stage Road marked by a grove of mammoth eucalyptus trees.

(Is this the colorful Willowside Ranch? photo by Suzanne Meek)

Ernie: My father told me that when he drove the cheese by wagon from Pescadero to Watsonville, they had to time it. By the time they got to Waddell Bluff, it had to be low tide or else there would be no beach.

The Alves family moved operations north to Half Moon Bay in the 1890s.

Ernie: My father knew it was noon when the stagecoach rumbled by–he was plowing the fields then.

About 1923 Ernie’s father gave up cheesemaking and purchased a lovely Victorian house on Kelly Avenue in Half Moon Bay.

(Photo: In the 1970s M/M Alves stand in front of their Victorian house on Kelly Ave, formerly known as the “Ben Cunha” house .

Ernie: Then we took one cow and somebody wanted milk. Pretty soon we had two cows, then three cows. When they got too large for back of the house, the cows were moved down to where the Little League fields are.

A decade later a barn was built with a room to bottle raw milk.

Ernie (a student at the time): We had a walk-in box and the whole bit.

Ten more years raced by and a bigger barn was built. The Alves converted a building near the Victorian house into a processing plant. The milk was carried in 10-gallon cans from the ranch (the Little League fields) to the plant.

Ernie: The way I remember that the plant was built in 1941 is that we had two bricklayers, and it was December of ’41 when we started it. The war had begun. Highway 1 wasnot here as you see it now: Main Street was Highway 1.

Our Cows Are Outstanding In Their Fields: Remembering Alves Dairy, Part I

The Famous Sign, Now Gone: (Reminder: Click on any image to enlarge)

A few days before the famous Alves Dairy closed down in February 1978, I spoke to owner Ernie Alves. The 150-acre dairy, marked by its 1950s style drive-in store, specialized in delicious chocolate milk. More extraordinary was the funny marquee that always turned heads: “Our Cow Are Outstanding In Their Fields”.

Ernie (modestly) : It’s sort of a landmark. I’ve read articles in magazines where they said, ‘go as far as the dairy, then turn right to go to the beach.’ Ernie

June: Did you think up the catchy slogan?

Ernie: No, my son discovered it in Iowa.

June: What’s the secret of your chocolate milk?

Ernie: Everybody knows our chocolate milk. It’s whole milk. If you buy chocolate, and it says ‘drink’, it’s either nonfat or lowfat and the butter fat isnot there. The consistency is like watr. We use whole milk, quality chocolate and pure sugar.

June: Tell me about the cows? Are they special?

Ernie: Cows aren’t just cows. Each one has a personality. You’d be surprised. ‘Bayshore Dotty’ is the boss. Her name was Dotty but her number is 101 and somehow ‘Bayshore’ got thrown in. You know ‘Bayshore Dotty’ because if you do something in the corral, she’ll be right there. The other cows won’t move, but she is right there. You bring in a new cow and she lets it be known she’s the boss. They have their pecking order.

June: Any other cows you can tell me about?

Ernie: Chicken Little, now that cow is a nervous wreck. You touch her and she jumps.