Eating lunch at Aunt Fran’s house was always a treat.

Double decker ham and cheese, or blt’s – cut up like “club sandwiches” – which meant she’d cut them into 4’s.

But that was just the beginning.

Because dessert was coming, and that always meant a boatload of Drake’s Cakes.
And she had the whole store-full. Whatever was on the shelf. Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, Yankee Doodles.

It’s no wonder my two cousins waistlines ballooned the way they did.

I bring all this up because this week marks another milestone in the history of the snack cake.

Anyone from Philly or South Jersey has to have had a Tastykake at least once. And while the original company that created the Tastykake didn’t last long enough to celebrate its 100th birthday, the Tastykake survived.

As an independent company, Tasty Baking Co. didn't quite make it to Tuesday's 100th anniversary, selling out to Flowers Foods Inc. in 2011 for $141 million to avoid bankruptcy.

But nearly three years after the rescue, the Tastykake brand - which drips nostalgia in the Philadelphia region, but had failed to break through nationally - has renewed strength.

The Flowers bailout has given workers at Tasty's bakery in South Philadelphia and delivery-route owners throughout the Mid-Atlantic the chance to celebrate the brand's centennial.

"Couldn't be better," is how Dom Rosa, who has owned a Tastykake delivery route in South Jersey since 2000, described life under Flowers Foods.

"As you know, a couple of years ago, we were really in a bad way, and Flowers came in and rejuvenated us," Rosa said. "Things are going really well."

Based on retail prices, not counting discounts, Tastykake sales have climbed to $425 million from $225 million since the takeover, Flowers said.

Flowers said it employs 561 at Tasty in Philadelphia, plus 217 at a second former Tasty plant in Oxford, Chester County, for a total of 778. At the time of the sale, the total was 740.

Before the sale to Flowers, Tastykakes were sold primarily through 474 delivery routes, most owned by independent distributors, who drove blue-and-white box vans. Flowers now sells Tastykakes in 5,000 of its 6,000 territories served by similar independent distributors from Maine to Florida and west as far as Nevada.

"When they bought Tastykake, they didn't buy Tastykake for Philadelphia. They bought it for the brand, to take the brand all over the place," said George J. Latella, a visiting professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University and a former Tasty Baking sales executive.

While the new bakery precipitated the end of Tasty as an independent company, it was a victory of sorts.

Generations of Tasty executives had tried to build a new bakery to replace the inefficient, cluttered, six-story bakery in Philadelphia's Nicetown neighborhood that Tasty had occupied since 1922.

All failed until the arrival of Charlie Pizzi, who was hired as Tasty's CEO in 2002 after a career in government and 13 years as CEO of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
"Charlie Pizzi had the connections to get the financing, and built the new plant down in the Navy Yard," said Philip J. Baur Jr., son of a Tasty Baking cofounder, and a former chairman of the company.

Baur's father and a partner, with $50,000 in capital, incorporated the business on Feb. 25, 1914, and began producing small cakes that year and delivering them in horse-drawn wagons in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

Asked for his thoughts on the 100th anniversary of Tasty Baking, Baur, 83, said: "I think it's rather unusual for a company to last 100 years. I'm surprised. I really am."

And for a product like Tastykake to be around for 100 is remarkable indeed. It goes to show you how beloved it’s been down through the generations.

Tastykake joins a legion of snack cakes we’ve all grown up with – no matter where we’re from.

Which was your favorite snack cake? (For the record, I still yearn for the Drakes Coffee Cake – with the sweet cinnamon chunks on top of a yellow-ish coffee cake.)

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