From Factory Town to Olfactory Fame: Cheerios Is on the Breeze in Buffalo

While Buffalo has many reasons to visit, like its famous chicken wings, world-class art and architecture, and nearby Niagara Falls, it may one day be known for another reason altogether: Cheerios are cooked up in the Queen City.

When the wind is right, the smell of baking Cheerios wafts over the city, bringing delight to all. Buffalo is considered one of the friendliest cities in America, and surely this is a contributing factor. It’s hard to argue with someone when your sense of smell gives you a sense of bliss.

Buffalo didn’t always smell like Cheerios. The wondrous scent was masked by more noxious odors from steel factories. They are gone now, and the jobs that went with them. But their absence revealed something Buffalonians had not known, that underlying the fog of pollution was a note of happiness waiting to be revealed.

Over a billion dollars of Cheerios are sold each year. It is an American icon, and wholesome, too, made from oat grain. It is the Tom Hanks of cereal. Even toddlers love it. Chocolate Cheerios has been available since 2010. Imagine a chocolate-covered Tom Hanks. He’d be more popular than ever, but not, like Cheerios, gluten free.

To create the unique Cheerios shape, a round ball of dough is sent through a pumping gun at speeds of 100 MPH, puffing it up. Lester Borchardt came up with the idea in 1941. They probably thought he was goofing off, playing with his food. Which, no doubt, he was.

“Let me get this straight, Lester. You’re going to take dough, send it through a thin metal tube at 100 miles an hour, and see what happens?”

“In the name of science.”

“Can I help?”

You’d want to be careful around that gun. It’s easy to imagine engineers after the holiday party turning it on each other, as another “experiment.” A visit to the ER to get Cheerios embedded in your skin removed would be embarrassing. The hospital might tweet a photo for publicity.

Much has been made of the Cheerios smell in Buffalo, but not so much the scent of magically delicious Lucky Charms. I haven’t witnessed it, but I imagine its effect would be different on people. I think people who inhale its aroma would begin to speak in an Irish brogue, like “Lucky,” the cereal’s leprechaun character implanted into our consciousness by TV advertising. “Always after me Lucky Charms,” Lucky says. He seems good humored about it. If people were continually trying to steal my foodstuffs, I might not be so gracious. But the Irish, I suppose, are used to it.

So for your next vacation, involve all five of your senses. Visit Buffalo. Taste authentic wings. See a Frank Lloyd Wright mansion that has undergone a stunning $50 million restoration. Hear and feel the thunder of the Falls just twenty minutes away.

And smell something that may take you to a different place altogether: To the breakfast table long ago, sleepy eyed, asking someone to pass the milk.

Illustration by: Isabella Bannerman

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6 thoughts on “From Factory Town to Olfactory Fame: Cheerios Is on the Breeze in Buffalo”

  1. This is a great piece. Who knew Cheerios and Buffalo go way back? And a very sweet illustration to boot. Who’s hungry?

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