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.