A savory history of C.F. Sauer Company

Known for its iconic sign overlooking Broad Street, the cooking products company has a long history in the River City.

An aerial shot over Richmond's Fan District with Sauer's Vanilla Sign in view.

The Sauer’s Vanilla sign glows over Broad Street.

You would probably recognize the incandescent Sauer’s Vanilla sign driving west down Broad Street. The company has a 130+ year history in Richmond that stretches from the genesis of the American flavor industry to the jar of Duke’s Mayo that might be in your fridge right now.

The company started in 1887 when a 21-year-old pharmacist named Conrad Frederick Sauer saw a rising demand in the drugstore business.

While flavor itself has an ancient history, the production of artificial scents and flavors began to emerge in the late 19th and early 20th century. Shoppers often purchased flavoring extracts at drugstores because they were thought to have a more pure, strong product.


Conrad Frederick Sauer had just turned 21 when he founded his company.

Portrait via Press Reference Book of Prominent Virginians; sign photo by @ruby.carmela

Sauer founded the C.F. Sauer Company on his 21st birthday, establishing the headquarters in Richmond. The business sold pure flavoring extracts in 5 and 10 gram bottles for 15 and 25 cents, respectively — making it much easier for the average consumer to afford flavors that would have been far more expensive previously.

The company soon began to grow. Sauer’s wife, Olga, arranged an award-winning exhibit for the business at the 1889 Virginia State Fair. After 24 years, the company relocated to 2000 W. Broad St., where it still operates today.


A company pamphlet circa 1915 boasts of Sauer’s purity and strength.

Photo via VCU Library Charles E. Brownell Collection

By the time C.F. Sauer died in 1927, the company was the largest producer of extracts and spices in the nation. A few years later, chef and entrepreneur Eugenia Duke sold her up-and-coming mayo business to the C.F. Sauer Company.

For almost a century, the company continued its business, led by four generations of Sauers. In 2019, the family announced the sale of the company to Falfurrias Capital Partners.

Now known as Sauer Brands, the company is still headquartered in Richmond with facilities in South Carolina, Kansas, and California.

More from RICtoday