The Fall of Tastykake

With the sale of the 100-year-old Philadelphia brand to a Georgia company, serious questions arise about Tasty Baking’s demise, from installing politically connected Charlie Pizzi as CEO to taxpayers shelling out $32 million to build a new factory in the Navy Yard. In the end, Tasty’s long rise and recent fall are the story of how this city works — or more accurately, too often doesn’t

A small demolition crew is slowly gutting the old Tastykake factory on Hunting Park Avenue for scrap.
The six-inch stainless-steel tubes that piped batter throughout the factory are worth about $1 a pound, and the aluminum pie molds — blackened by the seasoning of innumerable crusts — should fetch a few pennies more per ounce. On this overcast morning in early March, the crew works beneath ceilings where peeling paint hangs like suspended confetti over what remains of the equipment that, for 88 years, baked countless Krimpets and Juniors, Kandy Kakes and Kreamies. Bob Bolduc, a former Tasty Baking maintenance chief now dismantling the machines he once tended, thinks it is the shock of cold that has accelerated the decomposition. The bakery was a 24-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week operation, and with the ovens roaring at 600 degrees, it was always warm inside the Tastykake factory. But this winter, for the first time in nearly nine decades, the cold crept in and blistered the varnish right off the walls. And so the bakery feels as though it was abandoned decades ago, the sense of forsakenness belied only by the faint but unmistakable sweet smell of cake that somehow still lingers in the air.
For a company whose business model is utterly reliant on nostalgia, there was surprisingly little ceremony when Tasty Baking shut down its historic Nicetown plant in June 2010. By then, most of the operation had already moved nine miles due south into the new Tastykake plant at the Navy Yard. Then, last June, the final two Nicetown production lines made the move south as well.
And that was it. Tasty Baking had left the past behind. Charles Pizzi, Tasty’s amiable and politically connected 60-year-old CEO, had finally managed a transition that eluded the company for decades. With the help of $32 million in taxpayer financing, Pizzi had upgraded from an inefficient and obsolete facility to the most modern mass-production bakery in the nation, complete with a mini Tastykake museum for the kids and a glass-enclosed catwalk for tour groups overlooking the bakery floor. Now the company would churn out new products more easily and spend less on labor. Since the new bakery was in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, Tasty Baking would save a bundle on taxes as well. All of which, Pizzi said at the time, would help make the company “as relevant to today’s consumer as we were in 1950.”
Only it hasn’t worked out that way at all. Less than a year after the move to the promised land of the Navy Yard, Tastykake has been sold off — like the scrap metals now being harvested from the Nicetown factory — to a Georgia-based baking conglomerate called Flowers Foods for $34 million. Tasty Baking had no choice in the matter. The only other option was insolvency, a fate the company avoided in January only by the grace of a publicly funded bailout and the patience of its lenders. The good news is that Flowers Foods will pay off Tasty Baking’s many debts, including the bill due taxpayers. Better yet, for Tastykake fans, Flowers promises to continue making Krimpets, many of them no doubt at the gleaming Navy Yard bakery that Pizzi built on hope and $122 million in borrowed money.
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  • Diane

    Anyone who cannot distinguish between Tastykakes and Devil Dogs, Zebra Cakes and Twinkies probably should not write about them.

  • Ellen

    Ex-Philly girl misses TastyKake’s and is not beneath begging her relatives to bring boxes when they come to California to visit. Though not as memorable as they once were (can you say preservatives?) I still jones for them and Habersett’s Scrapple and Taylor’s Pork Roll. Now we’ll see another Philadelphia institution lost and a relocation to a baking company (in Georgia?) that will likely turn the Krimpets into a Twinkie (gag!) or worse develop a grits Krimpet. I shudder to think of it.
    However, if the new baking company can manage to crank out a decent TastyKake please ensure distribution to southern California Ralph’s or Albertson’s stores please!!!

  • Stephen

    one has to look far and wide to find a few examples nationaly where taxpayer support of businesses in competitive markets has succeed. All it does is postpone the tough business decisions to the the point where it is no longer possible to save the business, its jobs and its tax revenues. Tastey subsidies are like deserts, a sweet taste that is soon gone and the debilitating flab remains.

  • Stephen

    one has to look far and wide to find a few examples nationaly where taxpayer support of businesses in competitive markets has succeed. All it does is postpone the tough business decisions to the the point where it is no longer possible to save the business, its jobs and its tax revenues. Tastey subsidies are like deserts, a sweet taste that is soon gone and the debilitating flab remains.

  • DAV

    I think the writer stated the obvious fact: “Charlie had no experience with running this type of company”. But someone who may have done it better is Vincent Melchiorre who was a Marketing Exec. for Tastykake and is now with Bimbo.

  • suzanne

    Tastykake sold out to an out of town company who doesn’t know Philly tastes,customs,traditions,or expectations.The product will probably shrink in size,rise in price and be made with corn sirop instead of sugar.Will be known as TastelessKakes or worse.

  • Robert

    When I moved from my home in Maryland to Georgia in 1985, the thing I missed most after family and friends were Tastykakes. Thanks to Flowers Bakery I now enjoy Tastykakes whenever I want. I close my eyes, take a bite, and for a moment I’m home again. Flowers did more than preserve jobs, and for that I’m a grateful customer.