Gastronaut: The Kake Krusader

Paying homage to the best superhero you’ve never heard of.

gastronaut-krusader-400See that guy there? That’s Bob Hamill, the greatest (real-life) superhero who ever lived. A true son of Philadelphia, born and raised in Tacony, who went out West to seek his fortune and ended up in tights with a puppet on one hand, leaping out of phone booths and helicopters as the Kake Krusader — the man whose job it was to sell Tastykakes to the West Coast.

In his prime, Bob had a distinctive Philly look about him: chest hair, impressive mustache, slight gut. (Spandex did him no favors). Had Bob been the crime-fighting kind of superhero, you could easily have imagined him stalking through Northeast Philly in his costume with his puppet (named Krimpet, natch) and a pipe wrench, only solving crimes that occurred within reasonable walking distance of a SEPTA station or hoagie joint.

But the Kake Krusader was never about fighting crime. He was the kind of hero who delivered Tastykakes to charity events and visited sick kids in hospitals; who did TV appearances and sang out his catchphrase loud and proud: “Here I come to feed your face!”

Like every superhero, the Kake Krusader has an origin story, and his began in San Diego, when Bob was selling copiers. (That was after the 10-plus years he spent as a USO performer in the Army’s Special Services division; Mayor Frank Rizzo himself wrote Bob’s recommendation letter after he was drafted.) He’d bring his dummy along on sales calls to clients, one of whom ended up being a chain called the Philadelphia Sandwich Co. — “the real deal,” according to Bob, right down to the imported Amoroso’s rolls. Through his work with that sandwich shop, the Philly native got it in his head that since San Diego already had hoagies and cheesesteaks, what it needed next was a Mummers Parade. So he started one. He picked himself out a costume from the Mummers Museum in South Philly and, in 1982, led San Diego’s first official Mummers Parade. It was such a success that the Tastykake overlords took notice: Would Bob consider doing some publicity for them?

The Krusader would show up at events in a Tastykake pie truck and leap out to give snack cakes to the kids. He and Krimpet would go to charity events, secret pockets in his cape stuffed with cakes. “I have volumes of thank-you letters from hospitals,” Bob says. His voice cracks. “It wasn’t all publicity for Tastykake. So many charities we went to. It was such a great … a great Krusade.”

The Kake Krusader never made it to Philly. Like all superheroes, he had his Gotham, his Metropolis, and didn’t stray far. In 1985 the Krusader “got the boot,” packed away his costume, and moved on to the cruise-ship business. (The last Mummers Parade took place in 1986.) And these days, Bob and his wife, Marty, work as regular performers at the Smoky Mountain Opry in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — six shows a week, and a little golf.

As for the Kakes? They went the way of the Krusader, fading into little more than lore for Californians. Until now, anyway: Tastykake has plans to expand its empire again, marking the return of the Krimpet and the Kandy Kake to California — though this time, the company will have to sell them without Bob Hamill’s help.