I was listening to WIP the other day as host Glen Macnow took a detour away from sports toward a subject that’s as close to my heart (and much closer to the band of fat around my waistline) as the Phillies. He was broadcasting from the new-ish Tastykake bakery at the Navy Yard in South Philly. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, but when he mentioned eating a warm Peanut Butter Kandy Kake fresh off the line, I was swept up in some Proustian nostalgia trip and salivating like Pavlov’s dog. Sure, Tastykake was given $31 million in taxpayer-funded aid in what seems to be a failed effort to improve its financial health. I should probably be outraged. Instead, all I care about is making sure the Kandy Kakes keep rolling off that line. And that the company stays here.
[SIGNUP]As a kid, I wasn’t known as an adventurous eater. Fourth grade was The Year of the Cheese Sandwich—a few slices of American on condiment-free white bread for lunch, every day. The next year, I felt a little dangerous and switched to peanut butter (chunky style, of course—the choice of rebels everywhere) and jelly. The only variable in my Transformers lunch box was dessert. Ding Dongs, Yodels, or the occasional sandwich bag of Chips Ahoy cookies made for a fine end to my meal. But I felt like Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone on the days when my Mom packed Tastykakes. Butterscotch Krimpets not only tasted like sweet spongy heaven, they were also a measure of your lunchroom street smarts. If you tore open a pack of Krimpets without giving them a Mr. Miyagi-style rubdown first, thus ensuring the icing stayed anchored to the cake, then you were a sucker. Tastykakes were also a valuable commodity on the cafeteria dessert exchange. A pair of Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes could land you a bag of Doritos and a few cookies in trade; if you had a six-pack of glazed mini-donuts, you were Zeus, alone at the top, all the power of your 10-year-old universe at your chocolate-stained fingertips.
There’s also something uniquely Philadelphian about Tastykakes that no other food brand can claim. Breyers ice cream started here but was sold decades ago. Whitman’s Chocolates is owned by Russell Stover of Kansas City. Herr’s, makers of the best sour-cream-and-onion potato chips ever, is still local, but its headquarters is closer to Newark than North Broad. Tastykake is a part of this city’s DNA. I don’t want any more public funds thrown their way, but Krimpets deserve a place next to cheesesteaks as the gluttonous food that defines us, sugar taxes and Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating agenda be damned. The rest of the country might not notice if Tastykake was sold and shipped off somewhere else. To those of us who grew up with them, though, those Kandy Kakes wouldn’t taste the same.