Thomas Soffron (1908-2004) invented the fried clam strip, and was the first clam supplier to the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain.
Many people think that clam strips are cut away from the yucky parts of "whole belly" soft shell clams, that are commonly used for steaming or frying.
Softshell clams are usually about two inches long, and can often be found slightly buried on sand bars. They're harvested with specialized rakes. The soft-shell is also known as Manninose, piss clam, long-neck clam, steamer, fried clam, Ipswich clam, and belly clam. The siphon (also called the snout or neck) hangs out.
They're called piss clams, because the siphon often sticks up through the sand, and when you walk by, they squirt you.
Clam strips are actually slices of the "foot" of large sea clams, also known as surf clams, bar clams, hen clams, and skimmer clams. They can be up to nine inches in diameter, and are found from the
shoreline, to about 120 feet down.
They're harvested with dredges -- giant scoops with high pressure water jets.
Although people have been eating clams for centuries, fried clam strips have only been
around for about 80 years.
Thomas Soffron, a clam digger and businessman from Ipswich, Mass., invented the clam
strip, and was the first to market it.
Soffron was a finicky eater, and when served steamed clams, he wouldn't eat the neck and
he wouldn't eat the belly -- he just ate a sanitized strip.
Soffron later dug some hard shell clams, and tried slicing the digging foot of the clam into
eighth-inch strips and fried them. He liked the sweet taste and thought he discovered a
food with broad appeal, that could travel better than the soft-shell clams that were dug
closer to shore.
Tom Soffron and his brothers went into business in 1932 to market clam strips to people
who had never eaten clams before. The business took off when they met another young
entrepreneur named Howard Johnson, in the 1940s.
Johnson was opening roadside restaurants in New England. The brothers tried to sell him
their clam strips. He tasted, smiled, and a deal was done. At that time, few people outside
of Ipswich even knew clam strips existed.
When the Soffron Brothers and Howard Johnson's joined forces, the timing was perfect for
both to realize tremendous growth and success. Right after World War II, the country was
building the interstate highway system and Howard Johnson's would eventually create
hotels and restaurants from coast to coast (sadly, there are only about five left now), and
the "Tendersweet Fried Clams" became a nationwide favorite. The Soffrons once
operated seven processing plants, from Maryland to Nova Scotia.
Soffron was born in Kalamata, Greece. When he was an infant, his family immigrated to the United States and eventually settled on a farm in Ipswich.
During the Great Depression, Soffron moved to New York City and worked in hotel restaurants. In 1938, he returned to Ipswich and started digging clams.
Soffron was also the lead singer and guitarist with Talambekos Mandolinata, a string band that performed at Greek social events in New England and New York in the 1940s and '50s, and also made commercial recordings.
Soffron died on Feb. 21, 2004 at age 96 in Ipswich, his hometown.
Some info above is from Foster's Seafood, Fortune magazine,
Associated Press and Hellenic Communication Service. Graphics
are from Seawatch International, University of Michigan, Hellenic
Communication Service and other sources. We thank them.