Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

1914 was an important year for beginnings. For the planet at large, the year marked the beginning of World War I, the "Great War" as it was known in those days. This military conflict would last almost five years, eventually see nearly 70 million combatants take part, nearly 9 million of whom would perish, and would see the end of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire that had once nearly conquered the world.

The year also saw the debut film in the career of a 24-year old English actor named Charlie Chaplin who would go on to become the single most famous of the entire silent-film era. The year also saw the Ford Motor Company, founded just a decade earlier, institute a new 8-hour work day for it's employees that would eventually be embraced in most every industry across the country.

On July 11th, a big, boisterous 19-year old pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth picked up the victory in his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox. Later that summer, the SS Ancon cargo ship became the first vessel to pass through the Panama Canal in it's long-delayed and highly-valued inaugural opening. In September, Pope Benedict XV was elected to begin his papacy.

George Reeves, who would go on to entertain millions of Americans in the early years of television as "Superman" was born in 1914. Alec Guinness, who would on the far end of the century and in a galaxy far, far away would become famous as 'Obi-Won Kinobi' in the "Star Wars" films was born. Joe Louis, 'The Brown Bomber' still considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxing champs of all-time, was born. Wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, poet Dylan Thomas, longtime Miss America host Bert Parks, the voice of 'Tony the Tiger' and crooner of the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", Thurl Ravenscroft, and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio all began life in 1914.

In the city of Philadelphia that year there was a more modest beginning, but one that would ultimately grow to it's own popularly dizzy heights as a local and regional legend. It was in that year of 1914 that a baker from Pittsburgh named Philip Bauer and an egg salesman from Boston named Herbert Morris got together on a business venture producing baked cakes. Morris' wife, trying a sample of their creations, said that they were "tasty", and a local legend was born.

The 'Tasty Baking Company' began to produce it's 'Tastykakes'
, selling the original creations for just 10 cents per cake. The cakes were made from "farm fresh eggs, Grade A creamery butter, real milk, cocoa, spices, and natural flavorings from the far ends of the earth." In that first year of business the company reported gross sales of $300,000. Within four years, the company sales figures broke the $1 million mark. Today, the Tasty Baking Company sales have reached over the $280 million mark.

The company began locally in and around Philadelphia and gradually expanded throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and now hopes to go national to continue it's amazing growth story as it approaches it's 100th anniversary in 2014. However, all is not sugar and spice and everything nice these days at Tastykake.

As Tasty grew and expanded both it's line of products and it's service area, it also took on more and more debt in purchasing new facilities and equipment. In the last few years it has fallen upon hard times, as has much of the American economy, and now finds itself about $115 million in debt. Their dire economic situation and the possibility of the company's sale became public recently, causing much consternation in locals, for whom Tastykake has become as iconic to Philadelphia as the Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks.

I can tell you this about Tastykakes first-hand: their products are delicious. The original chocolate cupcakes are some of the best snack cakes on earth. Other signature products such as the chocolate Junior, the butterscotch and jelly Krimpets, the Kandycakes, the fruit pies, and many others match up with any nationally produced baked snack product. For those who have never enjoyed one, these things are damned good. I have my own personal old saying relating to the many foods that I love, where I say that "In my Heaven, they will have_____" (insert favorite food.) Well, in my Heaven, they will have Tastykakes.

When the challenges facing Tastykake became public, a fan group quickly popped up on Facebook calling itself simply "Save Tastykake!" I signed up early on. But I made sure that I made a comment on the page that, while I love Tastykakes, there is only one way that the company should be saved. That way is not to be had in a bailout by an infusion of cash from public coffers.

Tastykake needs to re-evaluate it's future and perhaps the pace of it's growth. It needs to closely evaluate it's product line and expenses. It needs to get it's financial house in as good a functioning order as possible by reducing and reorganizing it's debt, and it needs to listen to and respond to it's core customer base. The company has been accused of reducing the size of cakes while increasing their cost. That charge needs to be addressed directly and honestly.

Tastykakes are delicious snack cakes and pies, and the baked treats and the Tasty Baking Company have become Philadelphia icons. They are well worth saving. I am willing to do my part, but not with Philadelphia or Pennsylvania donating cash to be paid for by the raising of my taxes. For those of us who want to "Save Tastykake!" the best thing that we can do is a simple thing, really. Buy Tastykakes.

1 comment:

Lauren jonczak said...

I agree, nobody makes a cake as tasty! My friend Karen moved to Texas a few years ago and ever since she has made me send her tastykakes every 3 months. The people at home direct shipping practically know me by name now. I am glad to help a friend in need, I know if I moved away I would want someone to send me tastykakes! Thanks for sharing!