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Morrie Yohai, 90, helped create Cheez Doodle

Morrie Yohai, shown in 2005 with Cheez Doodles,

Morrie Yohai, shown in 2005 with Cheez Doodles, which he co-invented in the 1950s, died of cancer on July 27, 2010. Yohai, who lived in Kings Point, was 90.
Newsday's obituary for Morrie Yohai
Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Morrie Yohai was present at the creation of Cheez Doodles.

In a 2005 interview with Newsday, Yohai said the cheese-powder-covered baked corn puff was developed in the 1950s at the Old London Melba Toast factory in the Bronx, which also made the Cheese Waffie, popcorn, caramel popcorn and other snacks.

"We were looking for another snack item," he said. "We were fooling around and found out that there was a machine that extruded cornmeal and it almost popped like popcorn."

Yohai and his partners thought of chopping the cornmeal product into pieces and coating it with cheese. "We wanted to make it as healthy as possible," he said, "so it was baked, not fried."

And, he said, the name Doodle occurred to him as they sat around a table tasting different kinds of cheese on the snacks.

Yohai, who lived in Kings Point, died of cancer on July 27. He was 90.

He also was an accomplished photographer, poet, professor and businessman whose quiet wisdom left a deep impression on his family and friends.

Morrie R. Yohai was born in Harlem on March 4, 1920. He graduated from the Wharton School, the business school of the University of Pennsylvania, then went to work for Grumman on Long Island.

During World War II, Yohai enlisted in the Navy and began flight training, said his son, Robbie Yohai of Berkeley, Calif.

"He decided since he was making planes, he figured he could fly a plane," Yohai said of his father, who had never flown before, even as a passenger. "The first time he was ever in an airplane, he was the co-pilot."

Morrie Yohai transferred to the Marine Corps and eventually served as a pilot in the South Pacific, shuttling wounded troops and cargo, Robbie Yohai said

"He was excited by the experience," his son said. "He was happy to be a Marine and was very proud of it."

In 1949, Yohai took over his father's snack-food factory in what would become the beginning of a long career in the food industry.

Yohai eventually sold the company to Borden, where he became group vice president in charge of snacks. In the 2005 interview, he said his duties included sitting around a conference table with other executives and choosing the toys for boxes of Cracker Jack.

He left the company when Borden relocated to Columbus, Ohio, and soon began teaching at the New York Institute of Technology. He eventually became the associate dean of the school of management, Robbie Yohai said.

"It turned out that he loved teaching," Yohai said. "He could see he was making a difference in a lot of these young people's lives."

In his later years, Yohai turned his attention to Torah study, Jewish mysticism and writing. Robbie Yohai said his father wrote more than 500 poems and published two books of poetry.

Yohai was an active member of Temple Beth El in Great Neck and a philanthropist who helped found the annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival.

"His life took many turns," said his daughter, Babs Yohai of Oakland, Calif. "He did whatever he set his mind to and he was incredible."

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife, Phyllis, sisters Bea Forrest of Chicago and Lorraine Pinto of Mexico City, and a grandchild, Jasmine Yohai-Rifkin. He was predeceased by another sister, Lillian.

Burial was at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing.

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