Recently, a local industry was hit hard in this economic downturn. Tasty Baking Company, makers of Tastykakes – filling lunch boxes and satisfying the collective sweet tooth of Philadelphia since 1914, found itself in over $100 million in debt. For those that are Philadelphia adjacent, the word Tastykake is a part of the dialect along with the words Wawa and scrapple. A local can easily spot the Tastykake display in a convenience market, honing in on its cerulean, cardboard shelving. Those of you not familiar to the customs of the Greater Philadelphia area, Tastykakes are a local confectionery line, sold individually, wrapped in a cellophane membrane in the same spirit as Little Debbie and Hostess. Perhaps its economic failings has something to do with the fact that it has not reached a market outside of the Mid-Atlantic much like its previously noted competitors.
The Tastykake empire started out as a union between a Pittsburgh baker and an egg salesman from Boston. Their intention was to create quality products, home-made style cakes made with the freshest ingredients, single-sized and transportation friendly. The website insists that the cakes contained, “farm fresh eggs, Grade A creamery butter, real milk, cocoa, spices, and natural flavorings from the far ends of the earth.” A peak at the ingredients list on the package reveals this is not quite the case any longer as they now contain hints of artificial flavorings and a bit o’ the old preservative (to maintain freshness). The company, which had spent decades in Northwest Philly in an area named Nicetown (whose crime statistic would suggest it falls somewhat short of the name), moved its operations to a gleaming new facility within the Naval Yards off the Delaware last year. Then it went bust.
My first experience with the Tastykake was in the form of a local Bastille celebration last July. From the heights of a Gothic gatehouse, entrance of a former penitentiary, Marie Antionette, accompanied with an entourage, threw shovel-fulls of the confectionery, shouting, “let them eat Tastykake!” This year, a week ago, I had the pleasure of manning one of the shovels.
Flyer posted to a friend living in Denver
Why a post about Tastykakes, a treat in which I rarely partake? In the past two days, I’ve had several texts from California and an email from Denver with the sole subject of Tastykakes. Last week I was gifted an entire box of Butterscotch Krimpets that when fresh, is by far the most consumable Tastykake. I made a peach ginger Butterscotch Krimpet bread pudding on which I might have the inclination to do a post. But nothing trumps the unusual experience I had with Tastykakes a few months ago…
Upon hearing about Tasty Baking Company’s economic downturn, Chef Matt Levin from Adsum created for a limited time an eccentricly epicurean cuisine based upon the trademark brand in which a dollar on each dish sold went to support the failing corporation. The dish was a Tastykake slider – a brisket patty, sandwiched between two Tastykake Kandykakes (yellow cakes with a layer of peanut butter and a chocolate shell), garnished with melted American cheese and a cherry-sriracha jam. I can feel the collective recoil from this, but truth be told, it was quite tasty. It was a sweet, sour, salty, spicy, savory delight. All flavors were distinguishable, no one ingredient over powered the others. The order plated two and, seeing as the “buns” alone on the burger had a whopping caloric count of something like 450, I pleaded, begged, and cajoled a friend over a few beers to come partake in a plate with me. He, too, thought them more edible than expected.
The story ends on a somewhat happy note. Earlier this year, Tasty Baking Company was given an economic reprieve until June to broker a merger that would take on the company’s debts. May of this year saw an all-cash buyout, something in the tune of $165 million, of Tasty Baking Co by a Georgia company, Flowers Food, who thankfully elected to keep production of the timeless treats in Philly.
The former facilities located in Nicetown
A rack of tastykakes from the corner market
Bastille Day Celebrations. “Let them eat Tadtykakes!”
The Tastykake Slider from Adsum