Sudbury miner Leo May built his lunch pail to withstand the harsh underground environment of the hardrock mines after a black tin lunch pail he had used as a make-shift seat collapsed under him.
“Back in the ’50s, they didn’t have lunch rooms or benches,” said Catherine Languin, May’s daughter and current owner of L. May Metal Fabricators Ltd. “They just ate where they worked.”
May’s riveted aluminum lunch pail with nickel-plated hardware was an instant success with his fellow workers, and soon most of the region, resulting in a nice sideline business. The hip-roofed design has a distinguishing guise trademark in Canada.
The stamp in the upper left-hand corner of the box: L. May MFG, Sudbury, Ont., is another feature that qualifies it as an original Sudbury-made Leo May lunch pail.
The boxes come in four different sizes ranging from eight-inches to 14-inches wide, retailing from $30 to $80.
Over the years, this lunch pail has become internationally recognized by a host of different players, such a Martha Stewart for a variety of purposes. Languin has dozens of pictures where the box has been used in company promos and to help sell or accessorize other products.
Despite the lunch pail’s 50-year history, she is continuing to expand its market focus and gain exposure so ultimately, she can sell the business and see it grow from its current cottage industry status to a bigger enterprise.
Langin’s production is about 3,000 to 5,000 units in the two buildings at her present site. The pails are made with aluminum to keep them light, but have nickel plated hardware such as the handle and latches. She has been a company employee since she was five years old, helping dad scrounge materials from the dump for his equipment with her young friends.
These unique lunchboxes were highlighted on CBC TV’s Dragons’ Den show in October 2009. After a few back-and-forth negotiations on the show, Langin was able to convince one of the Dragons, investment banker Brett Wilson, to provide $75,000 in equity for 20 per cent of her company. She would also get a $75,000 line of operating credit from Wilson.
She hopes to increase production “substantially” at her Moonlight Avenue area location.
The television exposure may be just what she needed. “I just met an official from FedNor. He saw me on television (and) he said they have programs for developing industrial prototypes.”
Langin is developing a new lunch pail that involves an anodizing process where an electrical charge is applied to the metal so that various colours, patterns or even pictures can be embedded into the metal. Now she can offer pink lunch pails.
What did she think of the Dragons’ Den experience?
“I felt I was treated kindly, as opposed to some of the others (entrepreneurs).”
Langin said she thought that using a photo of her late dad, from a 1963 Inco Triangle publication, helped her cause during her presentation.
L. May lunch boxes are sold in a variety of sizes at Soucie Salo, Superior Safety, City Surplus and Clark Phillips. To learn more about the Dragons’ Den show, as well as view Langin’s presentation, visit www.cbc.ca/dragonsden.