Cuban Lunch: A Winnipeg Classic?

December 1st, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

After seven years here in the ‘Peg, I sometimes think I’ve heard about all the “Winnipeg things” there are to hear about. But every now and then a new one pops up.

Cuban Lunch ad. Image Source: CBC

My massage therapist and I often talk about food during treatments and about this time last year, as we were discussing Christmas treats, she mentioned that one item she always makes for the holidays is a chocolate treat called Cuban Lunch – something I’d never heard of, despite being quite enthusiastic about holiday sweets. She said Cuban Lunch was a chocolate bar she loved as a kid, and that this was a homemade version. I was sold and wanted to make them right away, but alas, everywhere I went was sold out of butterscotch chips, so my hopes were dashed.

This year, I was still thinking about them, so I made sure I secured the chips in November so I’d be ready for holiday baking. A few nights ago I prepared the recipe — a bag of peanut butter chips, a bag of milk chocolate chips, a bag of butterscotch chips, and a cup and a half each of crushed salted peanuts and crushed ripple chips — and filled up dozens of little foil candy cups with the sweet concoction. After they’d set, I tried one – and they were pretty good, though my husband and I thought we’d use more peanuts and chips the next time, along with a nice dark chocolate chip instead of milk chocolate chips – they are awfully sweet.

Old (?) Cuban Lunch wrapper. Image source: http://www.c95.com/

Anyway, the next day a friend was over and I told her I’d made this recipe and she said she’d made them before too. I thought it was a bit odd that I’d never heard of them, but two Winnipeggers had. When my husband asked about the origins of the chocolate bar’s potentially culturally-insensitive name, we undertook some research. Here is what we discovered:

  • Cuban Lunch was a chocolate bar manufactured made by Paulin Chambers and possibly later McCormick (see the ad at right describing “new Millenium packaging”, which leads me to believe they were available until at least close to the year 2000.)
  • They were made right here in Winnipeg!
  • I saw some references to Wikipedia saying Cuban Lunch was primarily distributed in Western Canada, but I can’t find that on Wikipeda at present.
  • According to a Regina candy retailer, “The Cuban Lunch is discontinued – Probably one of our most requested items.”
  • No one knows what the deal is with the name, though one commenter wondered, “Because they used Spanish peanuts?”
  • Apparently the chocolate bar was just peanuts and dark chocolate. Not sure how the ripple chips came to be in the homemade version.
  • Trademark registration record – I can’t make much sense of this, but it seems that the name Cuban Lunch may have been used in Canada as early as 1948, and the trademark was automatically expunged this year after the current owner failed to renew it.

Sources: 7 Horribly Named Candy Bars | Balonie goes to the big city (a first-person account of working at the Paulins factory) | 8 retro candies you wish you had right now

So – dear readers, you have always been a fountain of knowledge and I’m sure someone around here can give us the inside scoop — I know there are some Paulin’s Puffs lovers out there; maybe somebody knows more about the company? What’s the story behind the name? When did they stop being made? Were there chips in the original?

Until then, I’ll be trying not to eat all the 80 knock-off Cuban Lunches currently in my freezer, awaiting their dispatch to dainty platters and care packages. Wish me luck!

18 Responses to “Cuban Lunch: A Winnipeg Classic?”

  1. KM says:

    Cuban Lunch. Yes, I remember that, particularly the red wrapper, but haven’t seen or had one in many years — ’80s or ’90s I reckon. It was basically chocolate mixed with ground-up nuts, definitely not chips.

  2. Jason says:

    Paulins also made a confection called Pep Chew, a minty nougat with chocolate coating – I miss them more than I miss Cuban Lunch bars.

  3. Erin says:

    Yes! The commercial ones and the Christmas homemade ones aren’t the same; original didn’t have potato chips in them, just peanuts, but I think they were more than just chocolate. So I’m not sure why they have the same name, but they’re both delicious!
    This came up in conversation with my family last Christmas, an while the ‘tobans all remembered them, my SIL from Alberta didn’t know them at all. I asked Christian Cassidy, aka West End Dumplings, if he had any more info and he said:

    Yes, they were made in Winnipeg. They were a Paulin’s product. They had a plant in the Exchange District and made lunch, popcorn, crackers, cookies – including Paulin’s Puff’s (the chocolate covered marshmallows with a raspberry jam centre). The company was Toronto-based and had plants there and in Winnipeg.

    The local plant shut down in 1991, but they kept going in Mississauga. In 2013 a group called Hillman took it over and the name disappeared. http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1116671/hillman-closes-h-paulin-co-limited-acquisition

    As for lunch itself, not sure when they started and stopped manufacturing them. I know someone who studies snack food history, if she can enlighten me I will pass the information on !

  4. RM Ginter says:

    Hello fine people at: Winnipeg O’ My Heart:
    I must of been about 2 or 3 when my Dad bought me my first “Cuban Lunch” bar. It came in a clear wrapper with red lettering on a white background of about 1/8th of an inch around the edges. The bar was in a pleated brown wax paper and as in some of the photos,was a square with rounded corners. I’ve posted some of my other memories to my facebook page rmginter@facebook.com.
    Thanks for the memories

  5. Don says:

    Two other candy bars of my youth in Winnipeg were Pie Face and Fat Emma though I don’t know if they were locally produced. They disappeared long before Cuban Lunch. I don’t know if I have seen them since the 1960s.

  6. Emma Durand-Wood says:

    Don — Nice! My dad used to talk about Fat Emma, which he also ate as a kid growing up in Winnipeg.

  7. […] I Googled them and couldn’t find much information. I did discover that they were made in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Apparently they were discontinued because there was a preservative used in the them that was no […]

  8. Catherine says:

    Yes! I remember them. Childhood fave! Peanuts (chopped, but not too fine) & milk chocolate. I kind of aged out of them in the mid 1980’s…don’t remember when they disappeared.

    I do remember hearing the story as a kid that somebody brought some Cuban treat back from honeymoon after the war & it took the creator years to copy the recipe as it was too simple, LOL…I think the original was supposed to have rum in it…but they couldn’t get it right.

  9. Valli says:

    I loved Cuban Lunch as a child 50 years ago. The chocolate was not milk chocolate, but didn’t have a particularly high cocoa mass either. Only peanuts –no potato chips. I did all my eating in Edmonton, Alberta, where the bars were plentiful when I was little, and less so as time went on. I think I could get a pretty good approximation with chocolate chips thinned with a little coconut fat, and as many chopped peanuts as the chocolate will hold.

  10. Glen Sutherland says:

    i too, remember these bars, as that is why i was looking up.. so many things from our youth are no longer available and we don’t realize until we start talking about with our grown children. cereal, drinks, chips all we have forgotten about until someone posts about it or you suddenly remember as a kid. an other one was old dutch onion and garlic chips.. they did come back and then in box but don’t see them any more either.:(

  11. Susan says:

    Old Dutch Cheese and Onion chips……..MMMMMMMMMMM

  12. Karen says:

    I think that they were made with Carob, not chocolate.

  13. Ronda says:

    Was searching for A place to purchase Cuban lunch for a bit of nostalgia for my dad’s birthday. They remind me of him, it was our favorite treat from him as a kid. My dad used to work at Nutty Club in Winnipeg and also loved the puffs, they were probably all made at that factory. Sad they have been discontinued. Another flash back is the WigWam, another great lost bar.

  14. Wes says:

    The Cuban Lunch chocolate bar that I remember as a kid had a red rectangular 1/2 inch deep cupcake style parchment resembling cup with the corners pinked. It was wrapped with a clear but printed on cellophane wrapper that was assembled and glued together underneath. It was chocolate and Spanish Peanut chips or chunks. Any other style to me ( respectfully however) is adulterated as my opinion of what my memory is of Cuban Lunch chocolate Bar.
    Respectfully Wes

  15. Betty says:

    I so forgot about the fabulous Cuban Lunch Bar! Came across this website tonight while on the hunt to find out what happened to the rich awesome Raspberry sandwich cookies that may have been made by Paulins or one of the older brand-name cookie companies that are no longer on the shelf. The package held about 5-6 cookies wide and probably 4 rows long. The cookies were made of a rich smooth, I think brown sugar, shortbread texture and were filled with raspberry jam. The top cookie had a small hole in the center. The cookie was patterned with a lattice pattern on top and had a little scalloped edge. They were so rich and smooth, you just wanted more!

    The price was more expensive than other cookies on the shelf and were available until about 10-15 years ago. I know the Co-op and IGA both carried them. If anyone knows if they are still out there and if so who sells them, I would love to know. Thanks.

  16. Deneen Cook says:

    Wes, I am in 100% agreement! Wonder if we’re the same age, or very close to it! (52) 😉

  17. Diana Cooper says:

    I just found this discussion after Googling Cuban Lunch. I too loved them as a kid – it was a treat I shared with my dad (funny that seems to be a familiar thread in this discussion!) I was born in Ottawa (1968) mand moved to Victoria when I was 10 and I remember them being available both in Ontario and B.C. Sadly I think I stopped seeing them in the mid-80s. Too bad – they were simple – Spanish peanuts and chocolate (no potato chips) but tasty. And not horrendously sweet. Never knew they were a Winnipeg speciality but definitely a Canadian-only product. I miss them. And the Puffs! You can get other versions but none of them are exactly right.

  18. Crystal says:

    there is a facebook group dedicated to the tradition and love of these bars on facebook. We are crowd sourcing recipies and resources to get these chocolate treats back to the Canadian People 🙂

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