Will Downtown Montclair Survive the Closing of Hostess and Death of the Twinkie?

BY  |  Saturday, Nov 17, 2012 9:36am  |  COMMENTS (34)

After a few tense days of rumors about Hostess Brands closing down due to a baker strike, the company announced Friday that they are asking a federal bankruptcy court to allow them to do just that. With household name products like Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Devil Dogs, and – my favorite – Ring Dings, a lot of childhood favorites are at stake. The Millenial Generation is already freaking out on the blogs and Twitter, but most people I’ve talked to about the story asked “Do people even eat Twinkies anymore?” A Friday afternoon quest for toilet cleaner turned into an exploration of just that: the effects of Twinkies on local businesses and townsfolk. I walked along Bloomfield Avenue in search of the cream-filled golden cakes, which I have not eaten in over 10 years, and thoughts on the story from my downtown brethren.

My first stop was the CVS at 514 Bloomfield Avenue. It would have been Whole Foods, but the thought of them carrying anything from Hostess is hilarious. It turned out that CVS had nothing from Hostess on the shelves; the aisle seemed to be monopolized by Nabisco. As I rang up my toilet cleaner, the reason I put pants on and left the apartment in the first place, I asked my cashier what he thought about the idea of Hostess shutting down. He had no idea this was even happening; all he could say was “What? Why? That’s sad. I like Twinkies.” Yes, it was sad. It looked like I had to go further down the Avenue to find the good stuff.

Perhaps the Freshmaker would help me on my journey.

One of my favorite spots is Convenience Plus (412 Bloomfield Ave), where I go to get my Decamp tickets and a buttered roll on occasion. In the corner of the shop, I found a tall rack of cakes from Tastykake, a Philadelphia company. I asked the owner if he carried Hostess. He did not. It turns out that Hostess marks their prices up too high, so he can’t afford to even carry them. We both hoped that whoever would buy the brands would make it easier for smaller store owners like him to carry their products in the future. Not wanting to leave the store empty-handed, I bought some Mentos and continued my journey down the hill.

If there is anywhere downtown that you could find something gross, sugary, and carrying a big brand name, it’s Pathmark in Lackawanna Plaza. After a few minutes of walking through displays of Nabisco and Entenmann’s (whose parent company is hilariously named Bimbo Bakeries), I found the holy grail.

Much to my dismay, there was no line of people waiting to get that last box of Twinkies. It was no Golden Cream-filled Friday. Nevertheless, I grabbed a box of my own and held it tight, just in case someone more ambitious than I tried to take what was mine. When I told the cashier about the potential Twinkie shortage, she said “I don’t even like Twinkies anymore. I used to, though.” I agreed. I guess that there was a point in my life where I asked myself “does this really belong in my body?” A shopper overheard our conversation, pulled me to the side, and told me I was being silly for even caring about cake.

I did it. I found them.

Is it silly to be sad about a childhood snack cake potentially going out of production for good? It seems so for our area, which is still focused on post-hurricane Sandy efforts, as I saw from the many donation baskets outside businesses down Bloomfield Avenue. Several people told me they didn’t care about the story because there were “more important things going on in the world.”

Behind this silliness of a potential junk food drought, though, is the serious impact that will be felt by the more than 18,000 employees, not to mention their families, who will be losing their jobs when Hostess shuts down their distribution centers, bakeries, and outlets across the country. This likely includes the Drake’s baking company located in Wayne. The names “Twinkie,” “Drake’s,” and “Wonder Bread” and their recipes will most likely be acquired by another company, but the people involved will likely remain unemployed.

For those of us that live along the Avenue, though, we’ll be okay; we’ve got the delicious morsels of Tastykake, Entenmann’s, and Nabisco within our reach, and we’re probably better off. A woman in front of me in the Pathmark checkout line was buying Chips Ahoy, a Nabisco product far more delicious in my opinion than anything Hostess could offer. Her little daughter, though, saw my Twinkies and squealed “That’s what I want!” Her mother smiled at me and told her “maybe next time.”

I hope so, little girl. I certainly hope so.

Jenn Schiffer (@jennschiffer) is Baristanet’s web developer. Yesterday, she ate a Twinkie for the first time in 10 years and didn’t like it very much. She’s saving the rest for the next Baristanet event.

34 Comments

  1. POSTED BY lisaromeo  |  November 17, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    No more Yodels. Ring Dings. Funny Bones. Life is all about loss.

  2. POSTED BY mimimichalski  |  November 17, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    I believe I heard they intend to sell off the brands as part of the liquidation process. Hopefully someone else will want to capitalize on the brand equities and nostalgic love people have for these snacks and take up production of them. However, I am hoping they improve the quality. I ate Yodels and Twinkies in my youth and always loved them. About 5 or 10 years ago I tried Yodels again and they were nothing like I remembered them – a lot less chocolatey – the cake wasn’t even a dark color anymore. As for Twinkies, I tried them again about the same time and they too were a shadow of their former selves – all dry and sugary, whereas I remembered them as being a rich spongecake type of cake. Maybe if a new owner ups the quality they will be more successful.

  3. POSTED BY Jenn  |  November 17, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

    Mimi – you’re right about quality. When I ate one yesterday, it was dry and gross. I remember freezing chocolate Twinkies and slicing them up into chips. I would do that as a post-winning tradition when I played varsity field hockey. Not the weirdest thing I’ve done.

  4. POSTED BY deadeye  |  November 17, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

    The union gambled with their employees jobs and lost. Now 18,000 people will lose their jobs. The union overplayed their hand and screwed the people that they claimed to represent. It didn’t need to happen. This should be instructive to all but the most benighted anti-business, anti-capitalists out there. The union leadership acted like fools and many people that had good jobs now don’t, but when the brands and recipes are sold, the products will return they will be made by different workers, possibly even in the same factories by workers thankful to have those good jobs that were frittered away.

  5. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  November 18, 2012 @ 5:45 am

    A black president wins reelection, Queens has become the most diverse county in the nation, and, worst of all, the Twinkie factory shuts down.
    Archie Bunker must be rolling in his grave.

  6. POSTED BY Jenn  |  November 18, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    I’m going to build our site a widget for “Featured Spiro T. Quayle Comment.”

  7. POSTED BY cathar  |  November 18, 2012 @ 11:49 am

    I honestly don’t think that the loss of thousands of jobs nationwide is fit material for your ongoing desperate attempts to post a jape, Spiro. (And if Queens is the most diverse county, surely Clifton remains the most diverse city, since the school board there boasts of some 90+ languages in its school system.) Those jobs really are gone for good. Even if a company with the inopportune name of Grupo Bimbo steps in (so the newspaper business sections say), it apparently will be just to manufacture some of the Hostess brands in Mexico.

    This is getting sad, fellow. And Ms, Schiffer’s mistaken plan beneath your post is merely a hint that your special kind of localized foolishness is infectious, alas.

  8. POSTED BY Jenn  |  November 18, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

    Every time I write a post for this site, I always hope it’s the one that makes Cathar fall in love with me.

  9. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  November 18, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    cathar, instead of bellyaching all the time, why not try your hand at job creation, and open up a junk food bakery in downtown Clifton? Fill the void that Hostess leaves behind. If you’re savvy enough, you could make millions. Opportunity knocks.

  10. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  November 18, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    Cathar wept copious tears when Bain Capital sent all of those folks at “their” companies packing. Even now, he’s bawling over the job losses resulting from the Romney loss. After all, several CEOs promised that Obama’s election and the permanence of ACA would mean they’d “have to” let folks go.

    As for Clifton, while it might boast some degree of diversity, claiming that it is the “most” diverse city in the nation is absurd. A long way to go before Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or even Jersey City, where more than 50% of the population is foreign-born.

    I agree with Spiro. Cathar could help others, bolster the economy, and find a hobby more productive than 24/7 harrumphing and whinging by opening up his own business. Given his personality, a mortuary might be a good place to start off.

  11. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  November 18, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    @deadeye;

    once again, you are spectacularly wrong. thanks so much for sharing.

    the reality is that vulture capitalists and market shifts killed hostess. dead, i know this is not what fox is telling you, but just in case a synapse fires by mistake and you are looking for more information, here’s a link to Fortune’s cogent analysis of Hostess’ downfall:

    http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/07/26/hostess-twinkies-bankrupt/

    btw, deadhead, don’t lose too much sleep tonight—not everyone at hostess is suffering. earlier this year, the board members, knowing full well that bankruptcy was coming, voted themselves hefty pay raises that included taking the ceo’s salary from $750,00 to $2.55 million. oh those greedy unions!

  12. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  November 18, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

    A mortuary in densely populated north NJ given the aging of the baby boomers, inadequate healthcare and the obesity epidemic is an excellent idea. Im in.

  13. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  November 18, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

    You see, cathar, stayhyphy has that All-American entrepreneurial spirit. How about you? You can call your place “Cathar’s Junk Food Bakery and Mortuary”, and, one day, stand back, and proudly say, “I built that!”

  14. POSTED BY deadeye  |  November 18, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    Hi JC!
    Those darned vulture capitalists again! Read the opinion piece from this weekend’s WSJ. Unlike a lot of publications these days the WSJ, which is rather more highly regarded in business circles than say Mother Jones, The Utne Reader, or The Worker’s Vanguard, and still quaintly publishes opinions on their own pages rather than the front page. Here’s part of it:

    “The Texas-based company owned by the private-equity shop Ripplewood Holdings and other hedge funds essentially gave up. On Friday it shut down its 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers and prepared to fire nearly 18,500 employees en masse and auction off its brand and recipe portfolio.

    Hostess posted sales of $2.5 billion in 2011 but lost $341 million and lacked the cash flow to hold out through the bakers union work stoppage that had only lost a few days of production so far. One reason is a labor-rule burden that by comparison makes Detroit look like Hong Kong.

    The snack giant endured $52 million in workers’ comp claims in 2011, according to its bankruptcy filing this January. Hostess’s 372 collective-bargaining agreements required the company to maintain 80 different health and benefit plans, 40 pension plans and mandated a $31 million increase in wages and health care and other benefits for 2012.

    Union work rules usually required cake and bread products to be delivered to a single retail location using two separate trucks. Drivers weren’t allowed to load their own vehicles, and the workers who loaded bread weren’t allowed to load cake. On most delivery routes, another “pull up” employee moved products from back rooms to shelves.

    This year management negotiated concessions from some of the unions, including the Teamsters, but the bakers rejected a last and best offer in September. Then the courts gave Hostess unilateral authority to modify collective-bargaining contracts, prompting the strike. So now it will liquidate, instead of attempting to emerge from Chapter 11 intact.

    The 18,500 layoffs are equal to about 11% of the net new jobs the entire U.S. economy created in October. The unions are blaming private equity, or Bain Capital, or capitalism, but the election is over. And so is Hostess.”

    Sure it was a poorly managed company and pretty far along in the death spiral, which is pretty much a prerequisite for a private equity takeover, but they obviously had some basic issues that could have made it easier to maintain it as a going concern and preserve ~18,000 jobs that aren’t going to be replaced anytime soon, if the unions hadn’t forced the owners to pull the ripcord. BTW, board members typically receive a stipend that can be rather generous under certain circumstances but not anywhere near seven figures, and $2.5mm for a CEO that could have saved this company from itself would have been worth it, but I don’t know any specifics and don’t really care. If the company goes bankrupt in this fashion, the CEO isn’t getting paid anyway. See, away from government subsidized exercises in futility like Solyndra, for example, that’s the way the world works.

  15. POSTED BY deadeye  |  November 18, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

    JC, I read the CNN piece that you provided the link to. I suggest that you read it again. It’s objective, and by no means vilifies the people that were plowing money into the company until it didn’t make any more sense. There is also a political subtext that these guys got involved in the union quagmire with their eyes open.

  16. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  November 18, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

    My understanding is that Ripplewood will lose their entire investment in Hostess.

    JC did you hear otherwise, could be the case, Im just not sure.

    Doesn’t seem like any executive deserved a raise here, but I think something like $2 billion of unfunded pension liabilities and work stoppages are a bigger factor.

    JC do you have actual flows? Did Ripplewood cash out of the company? Most of what I read seems to indicate that most investors lost money here, my info might be bad though, who knows, just not close to this one.

  17. POSTED BY Nellie  |  November 18, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    Spiro’s comment reminds me of the All in the Family episode, where Archie offers Sammy Davis Jr. a Twinkle. That is one of the funniest television episodes ever made.

  18. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  November 18, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

    stayhyphy, you’re overthinking it!

    Go with the meme — greedy workers equals demands for a share of the profits. Reasonable and intelligent management resists, while helping themselves to anything not nailed down.
    Company goes out of business = greedy workers. Now you got nothin’, ya slackers!
    Us? We’re good!Why, some people (like deadeye) think that if the company goes out, we don’t get paid! What a sap!

  19. POSTED BY agideon  |  November 18, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    The salary increase for the CEO and other executives occurred “earlier this year”. It would appear that they have indeed received at least some of those ill-gotten gains.

    At least, for the moment. I was peripherally aware of a bankruptcy case where a transaction of that sort occurred immediately prior to the filing. Some interested party(ies) (the owner(s) of the company’s dept? The buyer of the company? I’m not sure.) took the owners to court to try to “claw back” the ill-gotten gains. I believe that they were at least partially successful.

    And BTW, WSJ is still a newspaper. However, its opinion section reads like Fox “News” (which should be no great surprise, I suppose). I cancelled a subscription – which dated back to when I worked in the industry – because I simply could not justify supporting that propaganda empire.

    …Andrew

  20. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  November 18, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    Cro, Im not overthinking it. We have a group of people calling foul over “vulture capitalists” who according to some accounts took a massive loss and another group blaming unions.

    I agree that these executives don’t deserve a dime, but it doesn’t appear that is the reason the company was filed. Again, $2 bil of unfunded pension liabilities.

  21. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  November 18, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    “Unfunded”? Who agreed to this? Guess they must have thought everything would be just aces when they signed off on it. Or maybe, they never had any intention of delivering! But that couldn’t be, could it? Now that its not, must be the unions fault!

    It’ll make for some interesting talk over oysters in the Hamptons this summer, that’s for certain!

    Ah, these job creators! Their ways are indeed mysterious!

  22. POSTED BY walleroo  |  November 18, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

    Every time I write a post for this site, I always hope it’s the one that makes Cathar fall in love with me.

    Funny!

  23. POSTED BY Holly Korus  |  November 18, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

    JJ,
    Girl Friday is “Pants Optional Day”. How did you not know that? You could have saved yourself some time.

    All I care about is Walleroo loving me. I live a sad, sad life. Who is Cathar? Is he new to the site?

  24. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  November 19, 2012 @ 6:44 am

    That was a great episode, Nellie. Probably the funniest thing I ever saw on TV.

  25. POSTED BY Nellie  |  November 19, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    Spiro, I found it on the Internet recently and reached it recently. Love Meathead’s comment about Twinkies: a WASP Soul Food.

  26. POSTED BY DagT  |  November 19, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    “Who is Cather?” reminds me of Who is John Galt?

  27. POSTED BY Conan  |  November 19, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

    “Drivers weren’t allowed to load their own vehicles, and the workers who loaded bread weren’t allowed to load cake.”

    You think that’s bad? The Union Countermen at 2nd Avenue Deli aren’t even allowed to use the same slicing machine for meat and cheese!

  28. POSTED BY deadeye  |  November 19, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

    They answer to a higher authority at the deli. Great Paul Krugman piece in NYT that I just read on Drudge. He’s advocating a return to the 90% top bracket. Some of our readers should be downright orgasmic.

  29. POSTED BY croiagusanam  |  November 19, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    Good God, deadeye! That tax rate is what drove The Rolling Stones to France back in the 70s!

    They didn’t last long, though. I reckon they missed the bubble and squeak.

  30. POSTED BY deadeye  |  November 19, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    We’ll tax ourselves into prosperity!

  31. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  November 19, 2012 @ 5:36 pm
  32. POSTED BY Jenn  |  November 19, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

    IT’S OKAY. IT LOOKS LIKE TWINKIES AREN’T GOING ANYWHERE YOU GUYS.

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I will really miss their store. It was always so easy and fun to find a fun gift there. Walking into their store made me feel like I was transported into a faraway happy place!

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