Oakland joins nation in mourning Twinkie after Hostess bankruptcy

From a small corner store at the Foothill and 55th intersection in East Oakland, the word went out last weekend: a rare commodity had been located. Within twenty minutes, it was gone.

When word spread that there was half a box of Twinkies still on a shelf at the A&A Market on Sunday afternoon, people of all ages gathered to get their hands on a small cellophane-wrapped piece of what was left of the Hostess legacy, and reflected on what the Twinkie—the “snack with a snack in the middle,” as the ads used to say–meant to them.

“Hostess Twinkies—I grew up on these,” said Oakland resident Deandre Watts, as he stood in the store with a mouthful of Twinkie he had just purchased. “There’s nothing to say, man.  I am kind of depressed they went out of business.”

In the front of the store, a dozen people gathered and waited in line for their turn to buy a Twinkie. “I love me some Hostess cakes,” said a woman who had already made it into the store, while a group of three little girls lined up to buy some of the goods—the going rate was two for a dollar. An older man shoved his hand in the Twinkie box and was interrupted by a woman behind him who asked, “Are you going to buy all of those?” The man replied, “I’m going to buy four.”

The people who gathered at A&A, inside and out, reflected a larger American population now mourning the loss of one of America’s most iconic snacks—the finger-shaped moist yellow sponge cake, with vanilla goo in the middle and an urban-legend reputation for immortal shelf life, commercially named the Twinkie.

The 82 year-old Hostess company, which has manufactured Twinkies since 1930, initially filed for bankruptcy after a rough fiscal 2011, when the company reported a $341 million loss on sales of $2.5 billion. The financially failing company tried to implement cutbacks in pension for employees, change some work conditions and increased employee healthcare costs, but company officials decided it wasn’t enough.

In early November, thousands of Hostess workers protested nationwide, which crippled the company’s production. A U.S. court then authorized Hostess to cease production, which caused much true financial hardship to the employees but also had cultural repercussions that continue to this day. Hashtag-Twinkies is now a Twitter category.  The New Yorker featured a front-page cartoon of them. On Craiglist, eBay and Amazon, individuals and vendors alike are all advertising Twinkies for as much as $18 for a pack of 10. All this has inspired some Twinkie fans to take extreme measures.  And while storeowner Nagi Ali enjoyed the 20 minutes of rushing customers coming to grab the last surviving Twinkies, it was a sad reality for him.

“We have customers that come in the morning for coffee, and they have been used to Hostess–that’s their daily use, cup of coffee and Hostess Twinkie, said Ali. “So when they come they don’t even buy coffee anymore, because they don’t see Hostess.” He said he’d originally stashed that last box of the Twinkies for his daughter, who lives in Dubai. He planned to bring the rare snack with him on an upcoming trip, but after he checked the expiration date—they do have one, contrary to myth–he decided to sell them in his store instead.

As it turned out, this made him somewhat unusual. A&A was one of the few stores in the Bay Area that Hostess products in stock last weekend.  Many area stores have reported they were “cleaned out” of Hostess products, as one Safeway Grocery store employee reported when the company announced it was going out of business.

“It was last Saturday that we really noticed stuff was going off the shelves,” a Lucky’s Grocery employee said last weekend, adding that the only Hostess product left in the store was a pack of donuts–but that they were “out of code.”

At that Lucky’s, customers were sad about saying good-bye to Twinkies and when some of the customers found the sugary snacks, they were still sad because “it was another thing gone.”

“When customers found the snacks, it wasn’t like they hit a gold mine,” said the clerk. “It was more of a sentimental thing to them.”

At the Colombo Bakery factory off Oakland’s busy I-880 freeway, where Hostess products were once produced and the smell of fresh-baked bread once filled the air, now a bird corpse tied to a fence in front of the factory greeted visitors on the sidewalk last week.  At least 10 Hostess and Colombo trucks sat in the gated parking lot, with one security guard on patrol.

Before Hostess announced the company would go out of business, 18,500 workers were laid off nationwide, 145 of them from Colombo.

Anybody trying to call the bakery last week would have been greeted by a discouraged-sounding woman’s voice in a prerecorded message.

“Hostess brand has closed all of its bakeries and ceased operations,” says the message. “If you are an employee, please do not come to work. The company’s assets are for sale.”

This wasn’t the first time Hostess had filed for bankruptcy. Back in 2004, the company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, a reorganization tool used by businesses and corporations to clear financial debt in court, asserting that the company was facing financial hardships. The company stayed in bankruptcy for four and a half years.

The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York approved the company’s emergency motion for the business to sell off its assets and to allow the company to wind down operations on November 21. The motion was approved by Judge Robert Drain after Hostess and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) were unable to reach an agreement during mediation.

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” Hostess CEO Gregory F. Rayburn said in a statement. “Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders.”

So far, there has been no word on the future of the iconic snack. But a local Oakland establishment Good Bellies Café, has recreated the classic snack—vegan style.

Good Bellies owner Allegra Madison said she came up with the recipe after she learned that the original Twinkies recipe used beef.

So far, the café has received a positive reaction from customers about its vegan Twinkie, which sells for $2.25. On average, the café sells almost a dozen per day. The snack uses organic and local products such as flour, sugar, vanilla and soymilk.

“They don’t have that spongy chemical flavor that I remember regular Twinkies having,” said Jason Willard, who had a one vegan Twinkie last week and said he has bought had one almost every day this week.   “So they actually taste like food.”

Before the Hostess strike, the café used to only make the treat only on certain days, but now that Twinkies have become a rare treat, the café decided to make them every day.

“Somebody had to pick up the reins on the Twinkie,” Madison said. “We couldn’t just let them die.”

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