Remembering K&B

John Norris

Pharmacists Gus Katz and Sydney Besthoff formed a partnership in 1905 that would become one of New Orleans’ most treasured icons of the 20th century. The first Katz and Besthoff drugstore opened in 1905 at 732 Canal St. By 1955, there were 18 stores in New Orleans. In 1977, with stores open all around Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states, the name was officially changed to K&B.

The chain was easily identified by its liberal use of a particular shade of purple, which was first used in 1911 after another merchant received a large amount of purple wrapping paper, which he didn’t like. The partners bought it, used it and a new slogan was born: “If it’s purple on the outside, it’s only the BEST from Katz and BESThoff on the inside.” The color, which would come to be known as “K&B Purple” to generations of New Orleanians, quickly became symbolic of the store and was incorporated into everything, including signage and store furnishings. Purple print ads caused The Times-Picayune to be the nation’s largest user of purple ink.

Over time, the store created its own brand of products, from household goods to pharmacy items, as well as a wide spectrum of beverages both nonalcoholic and alcoholic, including a whiskey called Sir Sidney. But what they may most be fondly remembered for was their ice cream.

K&B brand ice cream came in a package called a “flat fifth,” sized and shaped to fit into the tiny freezers of the 1930s and 1940s. Favorite flavors included cherry vanilla and cream cheese, and of course, they came wrapped in purple.
When the chain was sold in 1997, there were 186 stores in six states. The sale would remove the K&B name, and New Orleans residents weren’t happy. A sale of all the store furnishings, equipment, lights, uniforms and more brought out a big, sentimental crowd, who bought everything purple they could find.

“Look at almost every corner / And what do you see / A big purple sign that says / Friendly K&B / Variety, value and reliability / That’s what you get at your friendly K&B / K&B Drugstores.” Photo by John Norris Teunisson; provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.

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